FTCoE Online Workshop Series Focuses on Synthetic Drug Epidemic

In the first six months of 2016, paramedics in the city of Akron, Ohio, responded to 320 drug overdose calls. In the first 26 days of July, they responded to 236. The synthetic opioid carfentanil, it appeared, had come to town. [1]

The impact of that spike is just one of many aspects of the synthetic drug epidemic affecting the U.S. discussed in “Best Practices Guidance for Advancing Research Initiatives and Combatting the Synthetic Drug Epidemic,” a three-part online workshop series produced by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE).


Working in partnership with the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CSFRE) — a 501(3)c nonprofit organization that provides forensic education at the high school, college and professional level — the FTCoE convened a number of leading experts in the area of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) for 10.5 hours of presentations and discussions spread out over three days in July 2018. Those who could not attend the online webinar series when it was presented live, or who want to review it, can access the archival content here.

“After we produced a very successful 13-part webinar series in 2017, we began working with CFSRE and its executive director, Dr. Barry Logan, to prepare a more in-depth crime scene and analytical series,” says Jeri Ropero-Miller, FTCoE chief scientist. “This series helped practitioners to better understand and prepare themselves for what we are facing with this synthetic drug epidemic, and creating this series helped address this national and critical need.” (See TechBeat November 2017).

Logan served for 19 years as state toxicologist, overseeing Washington State’s forensic alcohol and drug testing programs, and in addition to private work, serves as executive director of CFSRE.

“Any time we have Dr. Logan as a presenter, he’s a big draw,” says the FTCoE’s Josh Vickers, who produced the series. “His knowledge and expertise always bring participants in.”

Logan started off Session 1: The Synthetic Drug Crisis – Identifying NPS in Forensic Casework, with an overview of the synthetic drug crisis as a whole and how it affects everyone who deals with these drugs, from law enforcement to lab professionals to coroners and medical examiners. It focuses on the importance of sharing information among stakeholders in developing ways of combatting the epidemic. A presentation by Eric Lavins of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Regional Forensic Science Laboratory and Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office, the location hit by the introduction of carfentanil referenced above, wrapped up Session 2: Analysis of NPS – Practical Considerations and Analytical Approaches.

“Law enforcement professionals will likely get the most overall benefit from Day 3 (Interpretative Toxicology for NPS in Forensic Casework),” says Vickers. “The presenters focused on synthetic drugs as a public health crisis and concern. There was good information on fentanyl and the crime scene, and how law enforcement has to handle crime scenes involving “white powder” differently than in the past.”

Other presentation topics from Session 3 included:

  • Recommendations for drug-impaired driving cases and motor vehicle fatalities.
  • Crime scene and autopsy findings in medicolegal death investigations.
  • Fentanyl and its analogs as a major public health concern, and the misconception that these drugs are heroin vs. fentanyl analogs.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids and how compounds associated with these drugs can have extremely adverse effects on the community.

Because the FTCoE interface gives users complete on-demand control of the webinar archives, individuals can access only the presentations that interest them, listen to the entire content in one lengthy session and anything in between. A total of 593 unique individuals registered in advance of the series, with 378 attending some portion of the live presentations. Others have already signed on to review the archives, and the original registrants retain their access as well. As with all FTCoE online offerings, participants received a certificate of completion that they can use for documentation of professional continuing education.


“The advantage of doing everything online is we can touch a worldwide audience and for the participant, it’s all free. When an individual comes to a conference to hear a presentation, by the time you add up transportation, car rental, hotel and other expenses, the total can be cost-prohibitive,” Vickers says. “Every bit of information the FTCoE puts out through its NIJ grant is free to anyone in the world. In addition to lab professionals, we have law enforcement officers, professors and students who join our webinars. We have a lot of people from different professions and different backgrounds.”

Although individuals who view the archival presentations don’t have the advantage of participating in the live question-and-answer sessions if their schedules kept them from attending the live sessions, they still can access every word of the original content.

“We know it’s especially hard for people to stop in the middle of their workday and watch, and this gives them the opportunity to go in as their schedule permits. They can even pull it up on their tablets or smartphones if they want,” he adds.

For more information on this and other FTCoE programs and projects, click here. For more information on forensics programs of the National Institute of Justice, contact Gerald LaPorte, Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, at Gerald.LaPorte@usdoj.gov.

[1] Nick Glunt, “Overdoses continue spiking in Akron, surpass 200 in less than a month,” Akron Beacon-Journal, 7/26/2016.


Participants Give Thumbs Up to Webinar Series

Participant comments on the webinar series include:

“Beneficial especially because everyone cannot attend annual conferences. Newer scientists get exposure to experts in the field. Also up-to-date information is presented that would not be available in a timely fashion.”

“Invaluable information!!! Presented by outstanding presenters!”

“The biggest benefit was additional exposure to types of drugs being seen in other labs and other parts of the country.”


Article photos: molekuul_be/Shutterstock.com, Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com