State faces backlog on toxicology tests

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The Associated Press
A jump in toxicology tests sent to a New Mexico laboratory has created a backlog delaying some death investigations for months.
Adding to the delays, the lab says it’s losing highly trained people to burnout.
The delay began last year when Office of the Medical Investigator began sending every toxicology request to the Scientific Laboratory Division, the lone forensic toxicology lab for New Mexico, KRQE-TV reports. Officials say it will take months — and hundreds of thousands of dollars from state lawmakers — to clear the backlog.
Officials said the change doubled the total number of cases the lab handles. Comprehensive toxicology screenings have increased more than tenfold, officials said.
In the past, the Scientific Laboratory Division completed nearly all its toxicology tests within 60 days, officials said.
“We take this very seriously,” David Mills of the Scientific Laboratory said. “We know that there are people connected. (There’re) families associated with each sample.”
A toxicology screening tests blood, urine or tissue for the presence of a host of drugs, both legal and illegal. Forensic toxicology reports are often used in court and the lab works to produce results that can withstand the scrutiny in court.
Before last year, an out-of-state laboratory was contracted to do the work.
A spokesman for the medical investigator’s office said it views the problem as a vendor issue: If the laboratory can’t deliver timely toxicology reports, the medical investigator can’t issue timely death certificates.
The two state agencies share a brand new building in Albuquerque.
As the lab struggled to keep up, officials said employees have endured periods of forced overtime and six-day workweeks for more than a month at a time.
Mills said he hopes to have the backlog eliminated this fall with seven new positions.