Meth and fentanyl contamination is a relatively widespread problem in the United States today. This type of contamination occurs when one or another (or even both) of these drugs are used in a particular location. Meth and fentanyl contamination particularly is a problem when the manufacturing processes associated with these drugs take place at a particular property. Meth and fentanyl testing needs to be undertaken at a location suspected of being contaminated. Testing is undertaken as a means of confirming contamination, determining the extent of that contamination, and identifying precisely what type of drug is present at a property. 

Testing at a property suspected of being contaminated with meth or fentanyl typically is undertaken in two primary ways. The most frequently used testing method is taking swabs at different locations in a property suspected of contamination. The second method involves the taking of air samples at a property suspected to be contaminated with meth or fentanyl.

Swab Testing for Meth or Fentanyl

The swab testing process begins by identifying those specific locations in a property at which swabs will be taken. Once that determination has been made, swabs are taken at each identified location. Each sample is taken from a predetermined area. The swab itself is then placed into a properly sealed container. The swabbing and placement of the swab itself into a properly sealed contained marks the commencement of what is known as the chain of custody process.

Definition of Chain of Custody

Broadly speaking, chain of custody is defined as:

“In practice, a chain of custody is a chronological paper trail documenting when, how, and by whom individual items of physical or electronic evidence were collected, handled, analyzed, or otherwise controlled during an investigation.” 

Purpose of Chain of Custody

Chain of custody comes into play in a number of ways when it comes to testing a site for possible meth or fentanyl contamination. One reason why chain of custody is important is in a situation in which testing is undertaken as part of an overall meth or fentanyl decontamination process. Chain of custody is crucial to ensure that test samples are not adulterated in any manner before they reach a lab for analysis. It is also crucial to make sure that test samples or swabs don’t become misidentified during the collecting, transportation, testing, and analysis processes. 

In the case of meth or fentanyl contamination sites, chain of custody can also be important if criminal charges about the manufacture, sale, or use of one or another of these drugs may be an issue. Test samples obtained from a suspected contaminated site may be evidence in a criminal prosecution. As a result, a chain of custody must be established and maintained from the collection point, through transport, and through all aspects of testing and analysis. 

Identification of People Involved in the Chain of Custody

Part of establishing and maintaining a chain of custody includes properly identifying all people that come into contact with sampling (swabs) taken from a suspected meth or fentanyl contamination site. These individuals include:

  • Individual or individuals who take the swab samples at the suspected contamination site
  • Individual or individuals to transport the swab samples to the testing laboratory
  • All people at a testing laboratory that come into contact with the swab samples

Tracking the Chain of Custody

Tracking the chain of custody involves making a record of the course of swab samples from the testing site to the testing laboratory. Tracking records can be made on paper forms created for such a purpose. Tracking records oftentimes a digital in this day and age. Tracking is considered one of the most crucial elements of the overall chain of custody process. 

A key element of tracking records is the recording of information when swab samples taken at a suspected meth or fentanyl contamination site are moved from the possession or custody of one person to another. Typically, the person relinquishing custody and the person gaining custody of swab samples will “sign off” on that transfer either using pen and paper or digitally doing so. 

Break in the Chain of Custody

If there is a break in the chain of custody, the evidence collected from the suspected contamination scene is rendered generally useless. An example of a break of the chain of custody can include something like an improper opening of a container containing a swab sample connected from a suspected contamination site. 

If there is a break in a chain of custody in a process involving the ultimate objective of decontaminating a suspected contamination site, the swab and sampling process will need to be repeated. If there is a break in a chain of custody occurs when evidence is being collected for a criminal proceeding, the evidence is useless in that prosecution. It is possible that a recollection can occur, involving the taking of new samples.