The primary forensics lab for Indiana has seen a sharp increase in drug cases during the past decade, an increase officials say has been driven in part by the state's opioid crisis.
The Indiana State Police Laboratory oversees about 20,000 cases each year from all but one of the state's 92 counties, The Indianapolis Star reported. Of those cases, about 14,000 involve drug substances, including powders, pills and plants.
The lab has seen a steady increase in drug cases in recent years. It handled nearly 9,400 such cases in 2008. By 2016, the number had increased to more than 12,100 cases, and the lab's drug unit is expected to handle more than 14,500 cases this year.
"We're at an all-time high this year," said Elizabeth Griffin, supervisor of the drug unit.
"Right now we're receiving more cases than we're capable of processing," added Eric Lawrence, who oversees scientists at the lab. "We need more analysts and to get more analysts we need more space."
Lawrence said Indiana's opioid crisis has introduced new risks for scientists, including fentanyl, a drug that can overdose an individual through accidental contact.
"I have 40 years in this business, and this is the first drug that I have seen that has anything close to this lethality," Lawrence said. "This is a game changer."
To prevent such deaths at the lab, new operating procedures have been put into effect. Scientists now consistently wear gloves and lab coats. They also carry Narcan, a drug that can reverse an overdose.
In addition to the controlled substances group, the lab also has five units, including fingerprint identification, firearm identification and forensic biology, which handles DNA analysis.