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Butte emergency responders adjust drug testing protocol to ensure safety

Posted at 9:04 PM, Apr 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-15 23:04:47-04

BUTTE – Butte police and fire personnel are changing how they respond to reported drug incidents to ensure officers’ safety.

Addiction to meth, heroin, and opioids is a problem Butte law enforcement encounter almost every day.

Sheriff Ed Lester said in the past, officers used to test the drugs on the scene using something called a NIK Test.

To administer this field test, officers would place a small amount of the drug substance into a baggie.

The officers would then shake the baggie until two different vials broke, causing the substance to change colors.

The different colors correlated with different types of drugs. Over the past couple of years, officers have stopped using this method.

“A very small amount of fentanyl can actually cause you to stop breathing, so we have stopped all of our field testing, and all of our testing currently is done at the crime lab,” Lester said.

All of Butte’s officers and drug dogs are equipped with Narcan kits, a nose spray that can treat opioid overdoses. But Lester wanted the officers to carry the tool for themselves, not for others. 

“Yeah, my thoughts originally were that we would carry that and have in it our vehicles in the event that an officer was exposed to fentanyl. Then we could get them breathing and get them to the hospital,” said Lester.

Because of extreme cold and hot temperatures, the kits cannot be placed in a car, which is why officer wear the kits on their belt. None have been used on officers to date, but the kits have been used on people who overdosed.

“We have used Narcan a lot recently,” said Lester. “Not a lot, but several times with people who have overdosed on opiates.”

The Butte Fire Department also responds to quite a few drug calls, according to Fire Chief Jeff Miller.

He along with the other firefighters also carry Narcan and undergo extensive training to prepare for these dangerous situations.

“You are always dealing with the unknown, and it is always fourth and 20 because you are never responding to something good or because somebody is having a good day,” said Miller.

“So it just goes hand in hand with the training. You have to prepare for the unknown and you have to be ready to, you know, adapt and change at any given moment.” 

Lester said even though officers do encounter drug calls quite often, he has not seen a drug lab in the community since before he took over as Sheriff.

-Mederios Babb reporting for MTN News