As I was preparing my message for ToxTalk, I had an opportunity to read an article published in the New York Times titled “Drug Deaths in American are Rising Faster than Ever” (June 5, 2017). According to the article, drug overdose deaths in 2016 will likely exceed 59,000. The rapid rise in overdose deaths is attributable in part to the emergence of fentanyl analogs. Further, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths are on the rise as well. The increase in drug overdose deaths is a great burden on our labs’ resources including budget, facilities, equipment and personnel.
In response to the opioid epidemic, SOFT has begun to forge new and vital relationships. In March, SOFT Vice President Michelle Peace and I met with representatives from many Federal agencies engaged in the drug epidemic including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, National Institute of Justice, National Institute of Standards and Technology and Office of National Drug Control Policy. A follow-up meeting will held in the Fall. Further, many of our members are stakeholders in newly formed local and state partnerships tasked with the assessment of the opioid epidemic and the development of strategies to save lives.
The SOFT Executive Committee met face-to-face in Mesa on June 1-2. The meeting was very productive and included a thorough review of the SOFT Bylaws and recently developed administrative and financial procedures, a discussion of SOFT Committee business, and a telephone conference with the new SOFT accountant.
In response to the U.S. Department of Justice call for comment on how it should move forward to evaluate and improve the underlying science of forensic evidence; improve the operational management systems of forensic science service providers; and improve the understanding of forensic science by legal practitioners, I submitted the following statement on behalf of SOFT –
The Society of Forensic Toxicologists, Inc. (SOFT) is a not‐for-profit professional organization comprised of more than 1,400 practicing forensic toxicologists and others interested in promoting and developing the field of forensic toxicology. The technical specialties include postmortem, human performance, drug-facilitated crime and forensic urine drug testing and evaluation. Through its annual meetings, the Society provides a forum for the exchange of information and ideas among toxicology professionals. The Society values mentoring and professional development, encourages cooperation and collaboration among professionals, sponsors programs, such as workshops, newsletters, and technical publications, all directed toward constantly improving and expanding the forensic toxicologists' skills and knowledge.
The work of the forensic toxicologist is the identification and quantitation of drugs and drug metabolites in the medicolegal contexts. Forensic toxicologists play a vital role in the support of the health and safety of our communities, which includes interfacing with law enforcement, medical examiners/coroners, the justice system, and public health officials. The most significant challenge is the lack of funding for education, training, instrumentation, new methodology, and personnel.
Rapidly emerging and evolving synthetic drugs, such as synthetic cannabinoids and fentanyl analogs (collectively considered novel psychoactive substances, or NPS), as well as the increased use of prescription drugs, has significantly compromised the ability of forensic toxicology laboratories to support criminal and civil investigations in a timely fashion. This alone creates a profound need for resources to support basic and applied research, expand the scope of testing, increase capacity, acquire instrumentation, and hire personnel. Uniform standards of practice must continue to be developed to facilitate the production of reliable toxicological data among laboratories, both governmental and private. Accreditation of laboratories and certification of personnel present a long-term cost that must be funded to assure the quality and integrity of investigations.
Members of SOFT are participants in NIST-OSAC and the ASB. In addition, through its participation in a recently formed NPS Working Group, SOFT is committed to cultivating relationships with State and Federal stakeholders to pursue and enhance communications and develop solutions to these national challenges.
Finally, the joint SOFT-TIAFT meeting is only three months away. It will likely be the largest gathering of forensic toxicologists ever, so please consider attending. The Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort and Club is an elegant venue with access to the beach, golf courses and numerous restaurants and a spa. The scientific program includes 17 workshops, as well as 187 platform presentations and 218 poster presentations. The social program includes the Welcome Reception, Beach Party Dinner, Dinner Cruise, and President’s Banquet and Closing Ceremony.
If you have any concerns or questions regarding SOFT, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce Goldberger, Ph.D.
SOFT 2017 President