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Phoenix police crime lab using new technology to detect trace amounts of fentanyl in blood

Arizona's Family logo Arizona's Family 9/1/2022 Briana Whitney
Gallegos said 30% of their drug cases in toxicology now involve fentanyl. © Provided by KPHO Phoenix Gallegos said 30% of their drug cases in toxicology now involve fentanyl.

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- New technology in the Phoenix Police Department crime lab can now detect trace amounts of fentanyl in a person’s blood, something that hasn’t been possible until now.

The reason this is such a game changer — crimes sliding under the radar because of old technology are now coming to light. “We’re looking at parts per billion concentrations,” said Amanda Gallegos, the supervisor of toxicology at the crime lab.

Gallegos and the LC Triple Quad machine are focused on fentanyl. “It’s almost 100 times as potent than morphine,” she said.

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Until now, that potency has been the problem, in some cases, affecting prosecution. “You potentially could have an individual that has drugs in their system that you’re not able to detect,” Gallegos said.

Because fentanyl is so powerful and often deadly, those who survive after taking it only have a tiny amount in their system. The LC Triple Quad machine couldn’t detect those trace amounts until the last few months because of innovations and updates. So before, drivers suspected of being under the influence could get off scot-free with no drugs detected, even if they were on fentanyl.

This new technology is now much stronger and more sensitive. “Currently, the fentanyl method and opioid method we’re using is 100 micro liters,” Gallegos said, showing a tiny vial of liquid. The technology is not only being used in DUI cases but also in sexual assaults and even homicides to help investigators and prosecutors build a case.

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Gallegos said the new ability to detect fentanyl comes at a crucial time. She said 30% of their drug cases in toxicology now involve fentanyl. “30% is a huge increase from just years before where it was maybe 5% of our case work,” Gallegos said.

That drop of blood that goes into the machine can produce results extremely fast. “The run time takes about 12 minutes,” Gallegos said. Being part of that is definitely very gratifying.”

Even though that machine can work almost instantly, the turnaround time for their lab to finalize and finish a full drug report is usually 5 to 6 weeks. Because they’re using the technology for those DUI and violent crime cases, they’re only using it with blood from people who are alive and not anything post-mortem.

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