Va. Guard Counterdrug Task Force helps minimize fentanyl risk

RICHMOND, Va.—Fentanyl Exposure Kills. A stark message recently put out by the Drug Enforcement Administration warning the police and the public about the dangers of fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is deadly,” acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in a DEA video. “Exposure to an amount equivalent to a few grains of sand can kill you. You can be in grave danger even if you unintentionally come into contact with fentanyl …”

To minimize this risk, law enforcement agencies are looking to the National Guard Counterdrug Program.

In the National Guard’s role supporting federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, the NG CDP has purchased and trained on TruNarc—equipment designed to assist police officers and other first responders from unintentionally coming in contact with hazardous substances.

“Something that looks like heroin could be pure fentanyl—assume the worst,” said Rosensburg as reported in the DEA press release. “Don’t touch these substances or their wrappings without the proper personal protective equipment.”

TruNarc enables testing without touching.

According to the information published by the manufacturer, TruNarc is a handheld narcotics analyzer. Narcotics analysis can be accomplished anywhere and everywhere—to include testing of substances of abuse on the scene and testing the questionable substances through packaging.

“TruNarc is the most beneficial piece of equipment that I have seen in years,” Master Sgt. Brian, Virginia National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, said. “It helps us support law enforcement in such a way that it can potentially save lives.”

TruNarc testing gives law enforcement, along with other first responders, knowledge about the type of substances that might be at the scene of an incident to which they have been called.

“TruNarc has proven to be a very valuable addition to the arsenal of law enforcement support,” Lt. Col. William Taylor, Virginia National Guard Counterdrug Coordinator, said. “Its use is increasingly requested by our law enforcement partners due to its effectiveness.”

“With the fentanyl epidemic growing daily, I see this type of support as a necessary expansion to support law enforcement efforts and law enforcement safety,” 1st Sgt. Donald Cooley, National Guard Counterdrug criminal analysts NCO in charge, said.

“It is a huge benefit,” Brian said.

TruNarc is deployed two separate ways. First as a single analyst’s tool. An analyst takes it to an agency that has a substance in need of testing. Secondly, it is deployed as part of an operational mission. It is taken to the scene where an unknown substance is present. In this case, substances can be tested as operations unfold.

Recently, TruNarc was put to the test in Virginia.

During a response to a call about a suicide, the police found an unknown type of lab and unknown substances in the residence. Law enforcement had no idea what they had walked into.

In heeding the warning from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as reported in the DEA press release, “Any fentanyl exposure can kill innocent law enforcement, first responders and the public…” law enforcement in this case took the necessary precautions.

The unknown lab and unknown substance triggered a call to the Virginia National Guard Counterdrug Task Force and a request for TruNarc equipment and testing.

“Law enforcement comes to them because they are reliable, professional, and competent at what they do,” Taylor said.

Although after hours, the Counterdrug analysts did not hesitate.

“Our team is a group of selfless professionals who believe in what they do,” Taylor said. “They provide a level of support unseen elsewhere.”

“We have a mission first attitude,” Brian said. “It took about an hour to get a team together to respond to the law enforcement request for the TruNarc equipment.”

TruNarc test results give law enforcement a better understanding of the course of action they need to take in response to substances that are found at the scene. It also gives police officers a better idea of the course of action they might take with anyone whom they may arrest.
Once on the scene, the VANGCDTF team performed the essential tests.

“We had many inconclusive readings, which meant we had to send our findings to the company—a reach back,” Brian said. “We sent our results to the company, so they could perform a deeper probe.”

This night, the VANGCDTF analysts sent the findings back to the company and within an hour a final determination was made.

This time, the test came back negative. Law enforcement could breathe a sigh of relief. They could go about their business and complete the response to the incident without fear of fentanyl exposure.

Though, “all is well that ends well” this night, the future holds no assurances. The next time the VANFCDTF analysts answer the call, the substance test could prove positive for fentanyl. But, with the assistance and support from the Counterdrug analyst be it in Virginia or another state equipped with TruNarc, law enforcement will have a better chance to successfully navigate the situation. To paraphrase an old U.S. Air Force quote: A policeman’s flight through life is sustained by the power of knowledge. In this regard, the knowledge of substances of abuse.

NOTE: First names used for operational security

Story by Master Sgt. Betty Squatrito-Martin