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AG Kaul seeks funding for updated technology and more toxicologists at state crime lab

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 6:02 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - To keep up with the evolving opioid epidemic, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said the state’s crime lab needs updated technology and more toxicologists to handle the case load.

“The pandemic is obviously at the center of people’s attention right now, but the opioid epidemic has not gone away and in fact the isolation that’s come with a pandemic has exacerbated a lot of the challenges we face,” said Kaul.

One of those challenges is the increase in opioid analogues.

“Usually when drugs are recovered they contain a mixture of different things and so sometimes that will be an illegal drug and then cutting agents that dilute the substance,” said Kaul. “As an example, you may see a drug like cocaine, that’s mixed with a small quantity of fentanyl.”

Right now, the state crime lab has the technology to figure out the dominant drug present in the substance turned over by police, but it’s the small amounts that are harder to determine.

“It is these cutting agents, these other components that are there in a very minor capacity that are the ones, currently that we aren’t able to detect so we need more advanced more complex technology to be able to zero in on those,” said Nicole Roehm, Division of Forensic Science Administrator.

That is why the Division of Forensic Science, along with Kaul, have requested money for a new instrument called a Liquid chromatography- Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS/MS). It is able to identify synthetic drugs and drug analogues that are toxic at very low levels.

“Updated technology and additional experts at the crime labs will help in combating the changing drug epidemic in Wisconsin,” said Attorney General Kaul. “I’m hopeful that the legislature will agree and allow DOJ to use available funds to hire additional toxicology staff and purchase new technology.”

“We would be able to identify these things that are present sometimes in very low levels and expand what we’re able to do with the results that we can generate outwardly to assist the criminal justice system,” said Roehm.

Columbia County’s District Attorney Brenda Yaskal said it will help them prosecute someone for the correct crime.

“First offense possession of cocaine is a misdemeanor. First offense possession of fentanyl is a felony. That’s a huge difference in my job and a huge difference in how the case moves through the court system,” said Yaskal.

Knowing what drugs are on the streets would also help keep officer safe.

“It’s important that officers in the field, know what they’re likely to be encountering,” said Kaul.

The crime lab would also like to add four more toxicologists to help with case load and meet demand.

“Thirty-six days was the average turnaround time in 2019, it went up to 39 days in 2020,” Roehm.

The toxicologist positions and new instrument would be fully funded by program revenues from the DNA and Crime Lab and Drug Law Enforcement surcharges. Kaul said that means the DOJ is asking the Joint Finance Committee to give them authority to make these purchases. Kaul said the total cost would be $933,800.

Kaul said as soon as the Governor’s proposed budget is approved, they will start the hiring process.

“Updated technology and additional experts at the crime labs will help in combating the changing drug epidemic in Wisconsin,” said Attorney General Kaul. “I’m hopeful that the legislature will agree and allow DOJ to use available funds to hire additional toxicology staff and purchase new technology.”

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