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Dauphin County police departments stop field testing of fentanyl

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Law enforcement agencies in Dauphin County will no longer be utilizing field test kits when they suspect they are in the presence of fentanyl.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico recently issued the guidance to police departments across the county urging them not to use the kits if they think a drug they find at a crime scene contains the substance.

"Normally they would put a small amount of that into what we call a field test kit to make sure that it was a controlled substance," Marsico said. "Because of the dangers involved and the risk associated with that, we advised the police to stop doing those field tests."

There have been reports in other parts of the country of police officers getting sick after handling fentanyl, which is about 50 times stronger than heroin.

The Harrisburg police department urged Marsico to issue the guidance, saying they have seen an increase in seizures of fentanyl and carfentanil in the last nine months, according to Capt. Gabriel Olivera, who demonstrated a field test kit to FOX43.

"One is a tube and one is a pouch," he said. "You would have to actually have some portion of that narcotic that you would have to actually put into either one of those containers, so you have to have contact with that to actually get that in there."

Fentanyl comes in the form of a white powdery substance, meaning it can look similar to other drugs, and it's not something you can tell apart with the naked eye. But even limited exposure can result in a potential overdose.

"It's not where someone is necessarily smoking it or injecting it, but just coming in contact with your hands because your hands being porous, it's going to get into your blood system, or by inhaling it, and that's where the danger occurs," said Matthew Null, a referral development manager with Gaudenzia.

Drug samples that would have required a field test will now be submitted to state police crime labs, a move officials say does not circumvent the justice system, and one Marsico says local judges support.

"The officers still need to testify if the case goes beyond the magisterial judge," Olivera said. "The test will be present at that time in county court."