February 28, 2024

Jasper County obtains TruNarc analyzer to more easily identify controlled substances

Assistant county attorney obtains $32K grant to reimburse costs of new device

Lt. Brad Shutts of the Jasper County Sheriff's Office inspects the field tests deputies currently use to identify controlled substances. But soon the sheriff's office will get its hands on a TruNarc analyzer, which will allow for much easier identifications of drugs.

Identifying controlled substances is becoming more challenging due to the advancements of synthetic drugs and the traffickers who disguise them, but the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office is getting its hands on new technology that will make their jobs profoundly easier, and it basically cost them nothing.

Nicholas Pietrack, assistant county attorney, said it is called a TruNarc analyzer, a handheld unit with a laser scanner that allows officers to identify controlled substances at the molecular level. Currently, deputies use colorimetic wet test kits to conduct presumptive field tests of controlled substances.

However, these tests have become a burden for officers nationwide, according to an article published by Thermo Fisher Scientific, the biotech company that distributes TruNarc devices. Each wet test kit is designed to test a specific drug; and since drugs like cocaine or heroin often look alike, it could be confusing.

Thermo Fisher Scientific also claims drug traffickers are frequently changing the molecular level of synthetic drugs to evade identification and seize by law enforcement. These types of changes in drug trafficking have forced police officers to change the way they identify drugs and precursors they encounter.

“With this device, they don’t need to take out the material at all or touch it at all. They can actually read through translucent packages, containers, vials — things like that,” Pietrack said, later noting the device no longer requires officers to touch substances or destroy any substances by means of the wet test kits.

Current field test kits the Jasper County Sheriff's Office uses are limited in what they can do and essentially destroy parts of evidence. The TruNarc device will allow officers to identify controlled substances without ever having to touch them.

Since the device is small, it can be taken anywhere and on scene of any location. The TruNarc can test up to 500 substances and their compounds. Pietrack said another limitation of the wet test kits is they cannot test for multiple drugs at a time (specifically fentanyl-laced drugs), but the TruNarc device can.

“Right now we’re seeing a lot of combination of substances,” Pietrack said. “Also a lot of substances look very similar because of synthetic drugs coming about. They don’t have some of the same physical qualities that they used to, at least visually. They’re combining them and changing the formulas.”

The database of the TruNarc analyzers is constantly being updated. Even if there is something the device cannot detect, it sends the information back to Thermo Fisher Scientific’s labs to run further analyses and then update the nationwide database, keeping officers in the know on the latest narcotics.

To help pay for these devices, the Jasper County Attorney’s Office and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office applied for a grant from the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy. The county was successful in obtaining the Byrne-Justice Assistance Grant Program Grant for more than $32,000.

According to the grant application, county officials said the pressing need for a TruNarc analyzer became evident in a recent incident when first responders were summoned to a medical-related call at a local high school. It was reported that three students displayed overdose-like symptoms after using the same vape pen.

The students believed the vape contained marijuana or THC. However, the first responders were unable to confirm the contents of the vape pen. One of the students required hospitalization due to their reaction to the vape pen’s contents. In this situation, a TruNarc would have been able to identify the substance.

There have been multiple instances where first responders have struggled to identify controlled substances at overdose scenes. This delay in identifying substances can hamper law enforcement officers’ ability to provide timely life-saving interventions for overdose victims.

“It is crucial to embrace this advanced technology to equip our law enforcement and first responders with the best available tools to effectively combat the growing opioid epidemic while ensuring enhanced officer safety,” county officials stated in the grant application.

Pietrack also noted the county was being reimbursed for its purchases through the grant, which paid for one device and additional testing strips. Jasper County Attorney Scott Nicholson explained that the sheriff’s office is practically getting the device for free with the reimbursement of the grant.

Current tests that Jasper County deputies use for drug identification are graded at Level C. Pietrack said the TruNarc analyzers are graded Level A, making them more accurate than the current field tests. Pietrack recalled a demonstration where a TruNarc could detect the sugar inside of a sugar packet.

Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty said the device is, in a sense, replacing a field test that he remembered using when he first joined the sheriff’s office. Even back then the tests were troublesome. If an officer saw a white powder, they could have gone through numerous kits to identify the substance.

“This is really significantly enhancing our ability,” Halferty said. “It’s safe, the timeframe and also the accuracy of it. (Jasper County Attorney) Scott (Nicholson) highlighted that it was free. Nick did all of the work on the grand application. He had us review it but kudos to him. I don’t think they even questioned it.”

From left: Jasper County Attorney Scott Nicholson, assistant county attorney Nicholas Pietrack and Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty speak to the board of supervisors at a past meeting.

Lt. Brad Shutts of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office told Newton News that when officers encounter a controlled substance for testing, they would normally have to put on gloves and a mask before testing the drug with their field test kits. But the TruNarc is essentially point-and-click, a much easier process.

“Obviously, it’s more efficient,” Shutts said. “We’re going to know something right away instead of having to go through all these kits.”

Lt. Brad Shutts of the Jasper County Sheriff's Office inspects the field tests deputies currently use to identify controlled substances. But soon the sheriff's office will get its hands on a TruNarc analyzer, which will allow for much easier identifications of drugs.
Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.