LA CROSSE, Wis. — Police in western Wisconsin are changing how they test potentially fatal drugs to protect officers from danger.
The La Crosse Police Department will test suspected drugs later this month in two ductless fume hoods that trap airborne particles, the La Crosse Tribune reported.
"This is a serious issue for law enforcement," said Police Capt. Jason Melby. "It's a reasonable precaution to take so that we can do our jobs."
The agency ordered officers in December to stop testing unknown substances in small plastic pouches after fentanyl grew prevalent in the city. The synthetic opioid is potent and can kill someone if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
"Every time you open a package, the substance can become airborne. One piece the size of a grain of salt touched by us could cause an officer to overdose," Melby said. "These are drugs we don't want our guys messing around with."
Police currently arrest offenders based on what officers think the substance is based on the investigation, Melby said. Officers will test the substances under a fume hood at one of the state's three crime labs if the district attorney's office requests it.
"The influx of fentanyl into our state is troubling because a small amount of the drug has the potential to cause great harm, even to unsuspecting people like law enforcement officers," said Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel.
La Crosse police will use the same fume hoods that the crime labs use so officers don't have to test the substances in Madison. Each fume hood costs the agency $3,500, and a second officer with access to Narcan will be present during testing as added precaution.