Chesterton Tribune



Indiana toxicology lab still faces long backlog

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The state’s agency for drug and alcohol tests in criminal cases has an eight-month backlog, although its director says it is making changes that should improve its performance.

The Indiana Department of Toxicology has struggled with staff turnover and other troubles before it was moved out of the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2012. Its caseload grew from nearly 6,000 tests in 2012 to almost 6,700 last year.

Agency Director Ed Littlejohn told The Indianapolis Star he believes changes are taking hold since he started leading the department two years ago.

“When I took this position, I felt it would be three to five years before this agency was going to be where I felt it should be,” he said. “I think we’re doing a lot of positives, but you’re not going to change everything overnight. It takes time.”

A previous Indianapolis Star investigation showed that 10 percent of positive marijuana tests and almost one-third of positive cocaine tests from 2007 to 2009 were not conducted using accepted scientific standards.

The state retested 800 samples reported as positive for marijuana or cocaine, and reported 30 percent had no trace of either substance. There was disagreement, however, about the significance of the findings. The samples might have changed in the years after the original test.

The troubles led to the ouster of then-director Mike Wagner, who later said he was a scapegoat for trying to bring rigorous science to the department.

Littlejohn said much work remains before reaching the goal of a 15-day turnaround for alcohol testing and completing drug tests in 30 days.

“We’re probably not going to make that goal this year. But that’s what we’re striving for,” he said.

Littlejohn said he’s adding three more forensic scientists. That would still leave the office one short of full staffing.

In the meantime, the department is relying on outside businesses to conduct much of its drug testing, which requires more time.

“Yes, there’s concern,” Littlejohn said. “That’s why we’re still doing outsourcing. I’m concerned.”



Posted 5/20/2014