WHITESTOWN — A new, portable drug detection device will be used at the Oneida County Jail to test within seconds for narcotics coming in through inmate mail.
Sheriff Robert M. Maciol and other county officials unveiled the device at the Law Enforcement Building Wednesday afternoon. Oneida County is the first correctional facility in the state to use the MX908 device, and the Sheriff’s Office is the first law enforcement agency below the federal level to own one.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to advance with some really incredible technology,” Maciol stated.
“Corrections officers today are facing more dangers than ever, and I have an obligation to ensure that we are doing all that we can to protect our officers.”
Roughly the size of a toaster, the MX908 will analyze swabs of incoming mail to check the “chemical fingerprint” of potential drugs and alert the user within seconds. The onboard computer also features a chemical database to provide drug descriptions and safety precautions just as quickly.
“We’ve been dealing with the opiate crisis on so many different fronts. Today, it’s all different types of substances, and certainly, fentanyl is at the top of that list,” warned Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.
“The device supports first responder safety by allowing them to identify drug exposures and take appropriate precautions, improving evidence for drug investigations and enhancing our public health surveillance activities to help understand and combat emerging drug threats in our community, including drugs entering our correctional facility.”
So far, the Sheriff’s Office has purchased one device from 908 Devices Inc. for roughly $65,000, officials said. The device was purchased through a grant from the county Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control.
The device uses patented mass spectrometry equipment to analyze chemicals in a high-pressure system. It is the only such device on the market for use in public safety, according to the local officials.
The device can be used to test for most controlled substances, including 2,000 novel fentanyl analogs, officials said, as well as explosive chemicals and chemical warfare agents.
According to the manufacturer, the device will last for years with proper use and maintenance.
Illegal drugs enter the county jail “a lot more than you think,” Maciol warned. “At least on a monthly basis, if not more.”
In late January, Maciol said two correctional officers were hospitalized after being exposed to fentanyl through incoming mail.
The sheriff explained that there are two types of mail that come into the jail: personal mail, usually from friends and family, and legal mail, from an inmate’s attorney. Personal mail can be examined and distributed with extra precaution, he said, but state law requires that legal mail must be opened in the presence of the inmate.
And just because mail looks like it comes from an attorney’s office does not mean that is always the case, Maciol noted.
“People on the outside are being as creative as they can to help people on the inside,” the sheriff said, adding that anyone trying to smuggle drugs into a jail is capable of buying or swiping some legal letterhead and envelopes.
The MX908 will be used primarily to test all incoming legal mail. And because it is portable, Maciol said forensic and crime scene investigators are also being trained in its use so that it “can be taken out into the field when necessary” for drug investigations.
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