Video Transcript: Opioid Crisis: NIJ Resources for First Responders

Frances Scott, Ph.D., Physical Scientist, National Institute of Justice

The opioid crisis has grown to one of the largest issues that American law enforcement face. The National Institute of Justice is committed to helping criminal justice practitioners as they battle this crisis. Frances Scott, a Physical Scientist at the National Institute of Justice, discusses NIJ’s funding for research and development and assistance to laboratories, a new working group looking at collecting and processing opioid evidence, partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better understand the risk to first responders; and the challenges presented by the rapidly changing chemical structure of opioids on the street.


As the research, development, and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Justice is very committed to helping criminal justice practitioners as they battle Opioid Crisis.  We have funding streams that are dedicated to research and social science areas, as well as forensic science, and other technologies.  We also have funding that directly funds state and local crime labs as they are addressing the enormous scope of this Opioid Crisis with direct support for personal equipment, et cetera. 

We’re also hoping soon to kick off a very targeted working group that will have to do with best practices for collecting and processing opioid evidence, so that will help everyone from the first responders who are going to come across these scenes, all the way through the lab personnel, so that they can get both the best answers and do it in the safest way possible. 

One of the efforts we’re very proud of is what we’ve recently entered an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control to research and answer some of the knowledge gaps around what is the risk to first responders when they enter fentanyl and opioid scenes.  So we’re going to do research to directly address the impact and the risk to first responders.  What’s the appropriate PPE that they need to have? How can we mitigate that risk? How do we remediate and clean up after those scenes?

So, one of the things people don’t understand about the Opioid Crisis is that we’re not just talking about one drug.  We’ve had heroin problems for years.  Heroin comes directly from the poppy.  But fentanyl and all of its analogs, we’re talking about something that’s created in a lab.  And so, fentanyl continues to be about 85% of the drug seizures, but the remaining 15% are things that look kind of like fentanyl and act kind of like fentanyl, but are not fentanyl.  And they’ve had little changes done, or sometimes big changes done to their chemical structure, which can also change how they impact the body.  The challenge then, both for law enforcement personnel who are encountering these, anyone who’s doing field drug testing or within the lab is that a method that works for fentanyl, that works for some of the first generation of these fentanyl analogs, may or may not work for the later drugs, and the protective equipment that’s needed, the risk of the first responder may be different depending on what the actual structure of those drugs that are being used now are.

Date Created: May 28, 2019