Ohio Attorney General Seeks More Money for Drug Testing Lab in Cuyahoga County

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You don't have to look far in Ohio to find a need for more public funding in the fight against the opiate addiction crisis. "Resources," money, treatment beds: All are lacking to some degree or another as the overdose death toll rises in our state.

In Cuyahoga County, law enforcement and medical professionals are bracing for even more deaths than last year's record 666 fatal overdoses. With that as a new baseline, the state attorney general's office is hoping to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into its Bureau of Criminal Investigations lab in Cuyahoga County for more drug testing capabilities.

In 2010, the BCI completed 13,879 drug tests across the state. This year, the number is expected to be more than 27,000.

The BCI is responsible for testing heroin seized by police departments and sheriff's offices; the lab in Cuyahoga County primarily processes third-party requests from those agencies. And as the public health crisis worsens, the BCI's workload looks more like a complicated petri dish of chemical analogs — an array of drugs often cut with the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

The Columbus Dispatch first reported on this story on Friday, noting that the state is seeking additional funds for its Hamilton County lab. In all, Attorney General Mike DeWine wants to lock in $440,000 for both counties' labs (split evenly). Both Hamilton and Cuyahoga counties are seeing astronomical leaps in the sheer quantity and dangerous, hybrid quality of drugs on the street.

"We're seeing a lot more complex mixtures," BCI spokesman Dan Tierney tells Scene. "Instead of just there being heroin or just there being cocaine, we're seeing mixes of drugs: heroin mixed with fentanyl, heroin mixed with other synthetic opioids, cocaine mixed with synthetic opioids. ... It takes longer to test those mixtures."

In 2010, for instance, the BCI recorded 34 tests of fentanyl. In 2016: 2,396.

From 2010 through 2015, to really drive the point home, the BCI recorded zero tests of carfentanil, an elephant sedative that's dangerous enough to cause overdoses via simple skin contact. In 2016: 214.

"Our labs have had to put in precautions to deal with the more dangerous and potent opiates that are coming in for testing," Tierney adds, "which also increases the time is takes to test them."

The attorney general's funding request will land in a Controlling Board hearing on Aug. 21.

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