Drug lab can’t keep up

Published 3:54 pm Saturday, February 12, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
Ironically, Berrien County Forensic Laboratory originated in May 1972 to nip a perceived "budding drug problem."
That first year the lab managed by Andrews University in Berrien Springs processed 465 samples from 340 evidence submissions.
In 2004, 9,795 samples from 2,219 evidence submissions were analyzed from 41 police agencies in Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties in Michigan and in Elkhart County, Ind.
Serving an area with approximately 210,000 inhabitants, it is among a handful of U.S. drug analysis laboratories that is not a division within a police department.
The lab's manpower hasn't kept pace as the area drug bud blossomed.
It started with a chemist and a part-time botanist. Today it employs two full-time chemists and a part-time secretary.
Dewey Murdick spoke to Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon about the $170,000 operation funded from a portion of a 0.35-mill drug enforcement tax that also supports a 10-officer narcotics team, some prosecution and treatment. Cass County contracts for the lab's services.
Murdick, a graduate of Oregon State University, worked 13 years for Dow Chemical before becoming chief analyst 17 years ago.
Analyst Wanda Sheppler, a Southwestern Michigan College graduate, has been his associate for 13 years.
They are painkilling opiates, but create a sensation "not unlike an orgasmic experience," Murdick said. "That's the hook. The downside of drugs such as heroin" is accompanying nausea. The caplets offer the former without the latter.
Stimulants simulate the body's preparation for fight or flight. "Your body prepares all the energy it can deliver for you and mentally, you decide in a split second, whether to run or fight," Murdick said. "Then you prosecute that decision with all the energy you have. Hence, you have these stories of the 95-pound woman picking a Chevrolet off her son when the jack collapses. There's an adrenaline rush and people are interested in that sensation."
Depressants such as alcohol, opiates, Valium, marijuana and barbiturates, alter the body's "tune in and tune out sensation." They reduce heart and breathing rates, restrict full flow of blood to skin and the digestive system, dilate blood vessels and increase reflective thought.
Hallucinogens enable the body to fabricate reality, such as transposing senses. Synesthesia enables someone to "hear color and see sound." Lysergic acid (LSD), phencyclidine (PCP) and psilocybin elevate blood pressure, pulse rate and temperature, dilate pupils, increase salivation and distort visual perception along with perception of time and distance.
Murdick's father, raised in Dowagiac in the 1910s, liked to say, "It's an ill wind indeed that isn't good for somebody."
Murdick sees himself in that sentiment because he personally benefits by having a job in something that otherwise "is a disaster for society."