State drug lab backlog will take ‘at least two years’

The state drug testing lab in Jamaica Plain was closed after former chemist Annie Dookhan was arrested for evidence tampering. (Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro)
The state drug testing lab in Jamaica Plain was closed after former chemist Annie Dookhan was arrested for evidence tampering. (Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro)

Prosecutors and public safety officials say it will take years to handle all of the cases that have been stacking up since two state drug laboratories were shut down, despite the addition of 38 new chemists.

“We expect the backlog will probably take at least two years to get down. The backlog grows every day,” Undersecretary of Forensic Science and Technology Curtis Wood told members of the state’s Joint Ways and Means Committee at a hearing in Worcester on Wednesday.

The state drug testing lab in Jamaica Plain was closed last summer after a former chemist, Annie Dookhan, was arrested for allegedly mishandling drug evidence and falsifying tests. She has pleaded not guilty to 27 charges, including obstruction of justice and perjury.

Officials say Dookhan’s alleged actions could impact as many as 34,000 criminal cases in Massachusetts. Since her arrest, more than a dozen defendants have been released from prison because evidence in their cases was handled by Dookhan.

A second state lab in Amherst was shut down in January after a chemist there was charged with stealing drugs.

Both facilities were under the oversight of the Department of Public Health when the suspected misconduct took place, although jurisdiction transfered to the State Police before the Dookhan scandal became public.

Lawmakers are considering how much should be allocated to public safety and the court system in next fiscal year’s budget. Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley is urging Beacon Hill to provide adequate funding to state agencies, to avoid future problems.

“There are predictable outcomes of government enterprises where we continuously increase demands but resources do not keep pace,” Conley said at yesterday’s hearing, according to State House News Service. “The resulting failures should not surprise anyone.”

Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBos



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