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New Hampshire County Police to Use Mobile Drug Scanners

Rockingham County law enforcement is taking proactive steps to protect officers who handle illegal drugs, while allowing them to quickly identify dangerous substances they encounter.

Hand holding a baggie of drugs.
(TNS) — Rockingham County law enforcement is taking proactive steps to protect officers who handle illegal drugs, while allowing them to quickly identify dangerous substances they encounter.

The sheriff's office, including its drug task force, and county jail, each recently received a mobile drug scanner. The hand-held devices allow for on-site testing in the field or in the jail by scanning packages containing potential drugs without opening them to make a preliminary determination as to contents.

Opioid abatement funds totaling $62,713 were used to purchase the two scanners. The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase.

Rockingham County received at least $2.87 million from the latest round of opioid settlement funds from various pharmaceutical companies and distributors who had a hand in the New Hampshire's opioid crisis.

The state received the majority of $310 million in settlement funds, but 15% was distributed to 23 counties and towns which filed their own lawsuits against the companies.

A cooperative effort between local county and federal partners resulted in the seizure of 100 pounds of hard drugs in Rockingham County last year.

"For a small, regional drug task force, that's a very significant number," said Major Christopher Bashaw from the Sheriff's Office.

As fentanyl use and transportation within New Hampshire has grown, something needed to be done to protect deputies and jail staff coming into contact with potentially deadly illegal drugs on a daily basis, Bashaw said.

"When fentanyl was introduced, it became very dangerous for us to even field test the drug," he said.

A few Rockingham County deputies experienced nonfatal overdoses from fentanyl exposure in the last couple years, Bashaw said.

"The last thing you want to do is get someone hurt over securing potential evidence," he added. "Our individual safety far exceeds the evidence's value."

He recalled an evidence processing deputy who was handling drugs and using test kits inside the sheriff's office back room. Fentanyl became airborne when some of it was taken out of a container and tested. The deputy overdosed from the drug becoming airborne.

"It was a big wake up call for everyone," Bashaw said.

He also credited Rockingham County Sheriff Charles Massahos, whose strong determination to combat the opioid crisis and get drugs off the street played a role in bringing the technology to the county.

One device will remain at the county jail while the other is on the road with deputies and the drug task force.

The DetectaChem scanners reduce exposure by allowing officers to point and scan at packages and identify the substances through packaging in about 20 seconds. The devices can detect 24,000 different chemicals, as well as explosives.

Bashaw sees local communities benefiting from the devices, as Rockingham County deputies will respond to help towns needing assistance.

The scanners will also help streamline testing at the over-booked New Hampshire state lab, narrowing down the range of tests required and moving cases along faster, he said.

Quick information from the scanners will help determine if an area needs to be secured or evacuated. The devices will also help determine if further protective measures are needed as calls can become fluid, turning from court-ordered evictions to drug investigations.

"The scanner is a great tool so we don't have to expose ourselves," Bashaw said. "It's all about protecting the people dealing with this stuff every day."

The county plans to train every deputy on how to operate the scanners. Several trained and certified deputies are already using them in the field.

© 2023 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.