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New technology enables the state to analyze more than 55 different drugs from just a few drops of blood
Increases the Department’s capacity to assist local law enforcement handling cases involving drivers under the influence of drugs and drug-facilitated sexual assault
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a pivotal toxicology technology advancement that is already beginning to help significantly increase the California Department of Justice’s (Department) capacity to analyze drug offense-related samples submitted to the Department, including for cases involving driving under the influence of drugs and drug-facilitated sexual assault. Building on funds invested in the Department from the California Legislature, the new process — based on validated methodology — uses state-of-the-art equipment to combine five drug analytical methods into one and dramatically reduces sample needs by as much as 97%. Over time, the advancement will enable the Department to step up its support of local law enforcement efforts to tackle impaired driving and drug-related sexual assault cases across the state.
“At the California Department of Justice, we’re committed to constant improvement and doing our part to better serve the people of California,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today’s announcement is a testament to what can be done with the right team and resources. I’m proud of the work done every day by the Department’s scientists and technicians in support of our partners and survivors across the state. This latest advancement will have a direct impact on the fight against impaired driving and sexual assault — and, ultimately, in protecting people’s lives.”
Following extensive testing and validation, implementation of the new process began earlier this year at the Department’s toxicology laboratory in Sacramento under the Bureau of Forensic Services, which serves 46 of the state’s 58 counties and statewide agencies like the California Highway Patrol. Using just one drug analysis method, the new approach can confirm the presence of more than 55 different drugs in a blood sample and quantify the amount present for more than 45. Prior test methods could typically only quantify two to seven drugs — and would generally be supplemented with other methods that could detect more drugs, but not necessarily quantify their concentration. The new method takes advantage of efficiency gains made possible through Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry instrumentation, requiring significantly less labor and sample. For instance, the new process can detect the presence of dozens of substances at once using 100 microliters of sample as compared to 2 milliliters on average through the previous five methods. In other words, it takes just a few drops of blood as compared to roughly an entire standard blood vial. The advancement comes at a time when there have been reported increases in the presence of new, emerging drugs, such as synthetic opioids and substances that are difficult to detect, such as fentanyl. The toxicology lab also tests for drugs like benzodiazepines, which are one type of drug used to facilitate sexual assault.
The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting the well-being of people in California and across the country. More information on resources available to survivors of sexual violence is available on the Department’s website here: https://oag.ca.gov/sexual-violence. General information about the Department’s Bureau of Forensic Services is available here: https://oag.ca.gov/bfs.
The toxicology team is in the process of hiring and onboarding new criminalists who will be trained on the new methodology and contribute to the Department’s broader efforts to support the people of California. Members of the public who may qualify are encouraged to keep an eye out for openings on the team here: https://oag.ca.gov/careers.