Mesa police going high-tech to fight opioids

Posted at 5:38 AM, Sep 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-18 17:43:25-04

Mesa Police has a new tool to help test for opioids.

Their crime lab just bought a machine that will test for hundreds of different opioids which is critical because right now, illegal drugs makers can change the formula of the fentanyl so it's not picked up in crime labs.  

This new machine will pick up hundreds more though, according to Forensic Scientist Raymond VanOrden.

So far in 2017, VanOrden says their crime lab has seen 12 cases of fentanyl -- last year they had eight.

Fentanyl is a very strong painkiller that's contributing to the opioid crisis, according to Traffic Officer George Chwe. Chwe is working with a Mesa City Councilmember on a program to deal with the opioid crisis.

Chwe says this addiction often starts when someone gets a prescription for a painkiller like oxycodone or morphine. After a few weeks or months, doctors or the insurance company will pull the plug on the prescription so the user turns to the streets to buy it.

"The going street rate for 1mg of Oxycontin is approximately $1, which means that a typical 30mg oxycodone/oxycontin pill will sell for around $30, giving the user one dose," said Chwe. "The same user can buy a standard dose (.5g) of heroin for approximately $10 to $20."

Often times, Chwe says, the heroin can be laced with fentanyl -- which is at least 100 times more potent.

"We are getting people that are mixing these things on a hunch and trying to make a profit and it's killing people right now," said Chwe. "I think as a community, we're going to have to come up with a way to combat this epidemic."

In addition to the new crime lab equipment, Mesa Police Department has also received new field drug testing machines from the Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety to help test for narcotics and other drugs.