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Former NJ State Crime Lab Director to Speak on the Opioid Crisis  

Photo of Dr. Thomas A. BrettellThe Rose Mercadante Chemistry and Biochemistry Seminar Series is pleased to present a seminar by Dr. Thomas A. Brettell, retired Director of the New Jersey State Police Division of Forensic Sciences and Professor of Chemistry at Cedar Crest College, titled "The Opioid Crisis – Challenges and Solutions for the Crime Lab."

The seminar will be held from 5:45 – 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 in the Helen Lerner Amphitheater, Science and Technology Center at Seton Hall University. Refreshments are available at 5:30 p.m.

More than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids since 2000. Over recent years, the abuse of fentanyl and other opioids has become a slow motion mass disaster in the United States resulting in an increased number of drug-related deaths. Opioids, including fentanyl and its many analogs, have flooded the illicit drug market along with other novel psychoactive substances. Since 2013, an unprecedented surge in fentanyl overdose deaths has been caused by illicitly produced fentanyl and fentanyl analogs sold as heroin. The US Drug Enforcement Agency's National Forensic Laboratory Information System reported greater than a 300% increase in fentanyl encounters from 2014 to 2015. Drug deaths in New Jersey broke a record for the 4th straight year in 2018 as at least 3,163 people died of drug overdoses. These figures are the result of the national opioid crisis.

In addition to the dramatic rise in overdose deaths, there are many other community consequences as a result of the opioid epidemic. The socio-economic impact of this disaster has placed a burden on local, state and federal resources including health workers, hospitals, emergency rooms, first responders, local law enforcement, medical examiners (ME), coroners and public safety officials. The increased prevalence of synthetic opioids has created challenges to crime labs charged with identifying controlled substances in seized materials. Fentanyl analogs are often mixed with other illicit substances such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Some of these analogs are extremely hazardous causing crime laboratories to take extra measures to protect their analysts. Forensic practitioners struggle to provide timely results when encountering new or unknown substances. These new psychoactive substances are often not present in chemical identification libraries and reference materials are currently unavailable for many of the newly emerging analogs. These and other factors challenge already strained forensic laboratory systems which face mounting caseloads as the epidemic continues to grow.

This presentation will highlight the vast variety of novel emerging opioids, the problems facing crime laboratories and some work being done to overcome the challenges forensic drug practitioners are facing.

Dr. Brettell joined Cedar Crest College in the fall of 2006, where he has been teaching forensic chemistry and analytical chemistry courses in the department of chemical and physical sciences. In addition to Cedar Crest, he had previously taught forensic science in the Criminology and Justice departments at The College of New Jersey and Rider University.

He previously served for 31 years in the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences, where as Director, he oversaw the operation of the state's regional forensic laboratory system. Dr. Brettell has testified more than 90 times in municipal and superior courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and has been the State's lead expert on the scientific reliability of the breath testing instrument in two Frye hearings before the New Jersey State Supreme Court.

Dr. Brettell earned his Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Villanova University, his M.S. in chemistry from Lehigh University and his B.A. in chemistry from Drew University.

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry offers B.S., M.S., and Ph.D degrees with specializations in all areas of chemistry. Our unique research environment, including traditional full-time students and part-time students is designed to foster collaborations with industry and colleagues in other disciplines. The Rose Mercadante Seminar Series is named for Rose Mercadante, the departmental secretary for over 40 years, in honor of our alumni, her "boys and girls."

Categories: Nation and World , Science and Technology

For more information, please contact:

  • Nicholas Snow
  • (973) 761-9035
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