This twelfth and final episode in the "Drugs Season" series of Just Science podcasts is an interview with Dr. Paul Speaker from West Virginia University, who discusses the high cost to crime labs of analyzing death from opioids.
In addition to being a faculty member of the West Virginia University Finance Department, Speaker is the President of Forensic Science Management Consultants, which specializes in the business aspect of forensics. The first part of the interview focuses on the economics of crime labs generally. Speaker argues that crime labs must be managed in accordance with jurisdictional financial realities and limitations. With limited budgets, even small crime labs can be managed efficiently while maintaining quality of services; however, limitations on spending will inevitably affect the volume of work, but it should not impact the quality of the work that is done. In turning to crime laboratory costs in the midst of the opioid crisis, Speaker quantifies the impact the crisis has had on the budgets of crime laboratories. He estimates that currently crime labs are spending approximately $270 million annually on the analysis of opioid deaths. The discussion also notes that drug overdose death often involve multiple drugs, many of which are synthetic drugs that are difficult to identify. Speaker mentions that the opioid crisis is costly for the entire criminal justice and health systems of the country, as well as productivity lost from overdose deaths. He suggests that a focus on prevention and treatment is at the core of addressing this costly health and criminal justice issue.