The Charles County Sheriff’s Office has recently purchased a handheld device which scans and identifies drugs on scene.
Last month, the sheriff’s office received a grant for a $20,000 handheld narcotics analyzer called TruNarc, which accurately identifies drugs in minutes and can improve the safety of officers as well as help citizens.
In a demonstration, Det. Caldwell showed exactly how the TruNarc works. With a sample of powder cocaine inside a clear plastic bag, which was held in a larger clear plastic bag, Caldwell held the laser firmly against the bag and drugs for it to scan. In minutes the results came back on the screen as positive for cocaine.
“It shoots a laser, the laser goes in, bounces off the substance, it measures the wavelengths and once it reads the wavelength it can tell what exact [narcotic] it is,” Caldwell said.
The device can identify nearly 250 of the highest priority illicit and abused narcotics in a single test. For darker drugs, the laser has to have direct contact with the drug, so officers will scoop a sample of the drug onto a TruNarc stick to be scanned.
The agency used the TruNarc for the first time around Jan. 19, when they found a drug dealer in Waldorf with more than $3,000 worth of heroin mixed with fentanyl. By using the TruNarc directly on the scene, officers were able to quickly indentify that the heroin contained fentanyl, which is a very dangerous drug to handle.
Caldwell explained that fentanyl is a higher dose opioid drug, which is medically used by people who endure a high level of pain from illnesses like cancer or serious injuries. He said that the most dangerous thing about fentanyl is that it is transdermal, which means it can be absorbed through a person’s skin by touch. If a person has never been exposed to fentanyl, touching it or even breathing it in can result in an overdose or death.
Caldwell said in the recent use of the device, it allowed officers to check what the drug was inside plastic bags before handling it. Once officers know that a drug contains fentanyl, they can take precaution in collecting it for evidence.
Before receiving this device, officers conducted a chemical field test, where they would have to take a small sample of the drug and put it into a chemical inside a tube. The chemical would then change a different color, depending on what drug was used.
Caldwell said that another major use for the TruNarc is for overdose calls. He said that when a person is unresponsive due to an overdose, if the drugs are present they can be scanned to allow them or EMS to properly treat the person for the specific drug taken.
Caldwell said that this device can also help with properly charging those who are caught possessing illegal drugs. He said that officers use field tests of drugs in order to charge users or dealers. The drugs are then tested again in a lab, which can sometimes take months to receive results, so getting a more accurate result of the drug on the scene can save time and make sure the offender is charged properly.
The information relayed on the device can be accessed on a computer as well, Caldwell said.
“This stores all the information, you can take it back to a computer that has the TruNarc program and hook it up to the computer, download the information and it will actually make a report [of each result],” Caldwell said.
He said that the device is still new to the agency, so they haven’t planned on how it will be used as evidence by prosecutors.
“It’s a great piece of equipment,” Caldwell said.
“The purchase of the TruNarc device will pay significant dividends for both our officers as well as the community,” Sheriff Troy Berry (D) said.
“The safety of our officers is one of our top priorities, and this technology will allow us to safely identify controlled dangerous substances quickly and accurately without having to wait on lab results. The community will benefit because we will be able to charge suspects sooner and more precisely, thus ridding our streets of these lethal drugs,” he said.
Berry also said that for the future, the agency hopes to bring in more TruNarc devices to assist officers.
“We absolutely plan to acquire more of these devices moving forward so that they are available and accessible to our officers when they need them,” Berry said.