Sniff Test

The handheld device called TruNarc is purchased and used mainly by law enforcement agencies around the U.S. CHOMP also bought one for drug analysis.

For decades it’s been nearly impossible to know which street drugs are a new and growing threat in the community, confounding both law enforcement and doctors treating those that fall victim to them. Drug samples sent to U.S. Department of Justice labs for testing could take months to process, if they’re sent at all. Now Monterey County police agencies and doctors at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula have a solution with a new street drug analyzing tool that came on board Oct. 1.

The handheld device called TruNarc was brought to CHOMP by Reb Close and Casey Grover, the emergency room doctors behind Prescribe Safe, a Montage Health initiative they founded in 2014 to fight the overprescribing of opioids. Since then they’ve partnered with law enforcement agencies to collect data on overdoses in the county. It was a police officer that suggested they consider purchasing TruNarc. Grover wrote a grant proposal to the Montage Health Foundation, which awarded the $35,000 needed for purchase and training.

The device uses a mass spectrometer to match up spectra from specific drugs to those included in an onboard library of dozens of possibilities. Spectra are detected with a laser light pointed at a sample either solid or liquid, and results come in a minute or less. Since street drugs are often cut with benign substances like acetaminophen, users are trained to treat it “like a chocolate chip cookie,” Close says, pointing in several areas to pick up different ingredients.

The laser shines through plastic bags and plastic or glass bottles, making it safer for officers to handle, says Monterey Police Chief Dave Hober. “A lot of times we don’t know exactly what they are,” he says, so coming into contact with a drug like fentanyl, now very common in Monterey County, could prove dangerous for officers.

Representatives from around 10 police departments were trained on Oct. 1, and once trained, officers may come to CHOMP and use TruNarc. Emergency room doctors will be able to analyze drugs in seeking the best treatment for overdosing patients.

“We are literally trying to keep up with the chemists who make street drugs,” Grover says. He and Close say they’ll now be able to track which drugs are prevalent. Previously it could take six months to know what new drugs are in the community, with TruNarc, Grover adds, “we can raise the alarm among medical providers that day.”

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