The primary function of the chemistry section is the identification of unknown substances for the presence of controlled substances. The most commonly encountered controlled substances include methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Hydrocodone, oxycodone and various benzodiazepines (alprazolam, diazepam) are also encountered in tablet forms. The results and reports generated from analyzing these substances are submitted to the court for trial purposes. Each analyst is able to testify to their findings in court. As of January 2006, marijuana is not accepted into the crime lab for analysis. The lab offers a one week marijuana identification course which is open to law enforcement personnel.
All three labs within the system are capable of analyzing controlled substance evidence. When the analyst receives the evidence submitted by the police agency, they will use various chemicals and instruments to determine the identity of the unknown substance.
When an analyst receives an unknown, they will perform various chemical tests to presumptively identify what they may have. From there, the analyst will use an instrument (usually a Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer) to identify the unknown. The unknown is compared to a known standard for identification.
In 2009, the chemistry section saw the emergence of “spice”. “Spice” is the general term for plant materials that contain substances that mimic the effects of THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana). The section first reported only a handful of cases at that time. Within the year however, many more cases as well as compounds were being seen. At one point, the number of spice cases that came into the lab far outnumbered the amount of other controlled substance cases that came in. Due to the sudden increase in the number of these synthetic substances, the Utah legislature laid out a plan to control those that were a major problem. Since 2010, upwards of 50 synthetic compounds have been controlled by the Utah state legislature. The number and frequency of “spice” cases has also dramatically decreased in that same time frame.
The average turnaround time (time of submission to report generated) for the central lab is typically 7 days.