ANCHORAGE — Irregularities found in controlled samples of illegal drugs at the state crime lab have prompted an audit of remaining samples and a criminal investigation.
John Skidmore, director of the Criminal Division at the Department of Law, said Wednesday the irregularities were discovered by new, more sensitive testing instruments employed by the lab.
The irregularities were brought to the attention of the Department of Law on Friday. Prosecutors on Monday asked for continuances in five drug cases, Skidmore said, while lab officials and prosecutors attempted to assess the scope of the issue.
Alaska State Troopers have opened a criminal investigation.
Prosecutors have concluded the irregularities did not affect the scientific ability of past lab tests and do not affect the crime lab’s ability to identify controlled substances seized in investigations, Skidmore said.
“We don’t believe that any of the testing that the crime lab has conducted has been faulty,” he said.
There may have been no obligation to announce the irregularities, he said, but the department wanted to be open about it.
“We believe in having the most open disclosure possible in our criminal case system,” he said.
Controlled substance reference standards are pure forms of drugs ordered from a pharmaceutical distributor to use as references in a crime lab, Skidmore said. Irregularities were found in substance reference standards for morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, opium, codeine and amphetamine.
The samples might be used to train new employees to make sure their analysis of a drug is accurate, he said.
“It’s a way for them to get experience using equipment and doing the work,” he said.
Drugs seized in a criminal case are tested with a gas chromatograph, which measures compositions. The graph spectrum put out by the machine is compared to the graph of a known substance.
“That’s the test we rely on in the actual prosecution of criminal cases,” Skidmore said.
Foreign matter was found in the standards. Someone stealing from samples could have replaced the controlled substance with another material, Skidmore said. He would not comment on how much foreign matter was detected among the affected samples, which he compared in size to material found in a hand-held bottles of prescription medicine.
The audit will review remaining controlled reference standards on site.
The audit could be completed in a matter of days or weeks but the length of the criminal investigation could take longer to pinpoint, Skidmore said. It’s a concern to all agencies involved, he said.
“This is a top priority,” he said.
The crime lab notified its accrediting body, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board, about the problems at the lab.