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New Drug-Identifying Tech That Could Reduce Accidental Exposure To Fentanyl Is Coming To Maryland

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A potentially life-saving piece of equipment that will give police a safer way to test drug evidence is coming to Maryland.

It's called a Direct Analysis in Real-Time Mass Spectrometer (DART-MS).

The technology has been around for more than a decade and has been used at airports to detect explosives. A study conducted by the Maryland State Police and The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found it can also be used to identify illegal drugs.

"It's a rapid technique," said Edward Sisco, a Research Chemist at NIST, "In a matter of seconds you'll know what kind of drugs are in that sample,"

This new technique can reduce the risk of accidental exposure to the deadly drug fentanyl.

"The amount of a grain of salt, if it's a potent fentanyl, would kill a person," said Amber Burns, the Forensic Chemistry Manager at the Maryland State Police Forensic Chemistry Lab.

Drug dealers have been using fentanyl to cut heroin, leading to more overdoses and dangerous situations for police officers.

"If a police officer comes in contact with a relatively pure sample, they're at risk of exposure, which could cause an overdose," Burns explained.

This has led to Maryland State Police discouraging field testing, instead relying on the lab to test the substance.

Burns says the lab is currently backlogged, "So we are not able to turn around cases in a timely manner."

The DART-MS could change that.

"We don't have to do a full analysis of the substance to know what's in there, for investigative purposes," Burns said.

It would also allow them to get information about what drugs are on the streets to the public health department quicker, so they can issue potentially life-saving warnings.

The Maryland State Police is currently in the process of purchasing the nearly $200,000 piece of equipment with grant money and they hope to have it within two months.

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