By Michael Li and William Yang, BaySpec, Inc.
Illicit and dangerous substances are ubiquitous in ports and prisons across the globe, in addition to turning up in private residences, checkpoints, or traffic stops. Everywhere law enforcement and other first responders operate, they risk exposure to such substances, from fentanyl (a synthetic opiate painkiller) and synthetic cannabinoids (lab-produced compounds whose makeup can vary significantly from batch to batch) to phosphorous and other chemicals that react violently when exposed to open air.
Inhalation, ingestion, or even incidental contact with these substances can have serious medical repercussions (e.g., hypoventilation from opioid intoxication) in humans as well as animals (e.g., police “drug sniffing” dogs). While debate exists regarding the true medical impacts of exposure to these substances and the amount of a given substance necessary to elicit a serious response, 1,2 there is consensus in the idea that minimizing or eliminating exposure to illicit and dangerous substances is optimal. Still, first responders (including medical personnel who need an idea what they may be treating) have a daily need to test unknown substances in the name of preserving public safety and enforcing the law.