Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know

Criminalistics Laboratory - Drug Identification Section

Drug laboratory and instrument room

The Drug Identification Section analyzes unknown substances, such as powders, liquids, and plant material, for the presence of controlled substances. Drugs commonly identified in Iowa are methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms. Items involved in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine can also be analyzed.  These can include starting materials, by-products, and controlled substances in various stages of the manufacturing process.

This section receives approximately 750 individual cases each month, oftentimes with multiple items in each case.  Testing can include chemical color tests, microscopic examination, thin layer chromatography, and instrumental analysis. After completion of the analysis for a case, the Criminalists write a report of their findings and will testify in court, if necessary, at the county or federal level.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is a controlled substance?

A controlled substance is a drug or chemical whose manufacture, sale, possession or use is regulated by state and federal laws. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies drugs into five schedules. This scheduling is dependent on the drug’s acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependency potential. 

What can be submitted?

Powders, liquids, tablets, crystalline substances, pipes, cigarettes, consumables, transdermal patches, paper items, and plant material can all be submitted for analysis.

Can drugs be tested for purity?

Methamphetamine may be analyzed for purity if the case is for federal prosecution and samples weigh over 1 gram or for clandestine laboratory cases.  Purity analysis can also be done on phencyclidine (PCP) samples for federal prosecution or PCP cases, other than possession, in which the net weight is more than 10 grams.

Are samples consumed in the process of testing?

Generally, only a small portion of the sample would be taken for testing leaving at least half if possible.  If the original sample is a residue, or a very small amount, then the whole sample may be used and the sampled material would be returned to the evidence package after analysis. 

What is the Hypergeometric Sampling Plan and when is it used?

The Hypergeometric Sampling Plan is a statistically based sample model which allows the analyst to analyze only a portion of the sub-items submitted and subsequently make statistical inferences about the entire population.
The sampling plan is used when there are a large number of sub-items and the sub-items are visually similar to each other.  The selection is random among the population and analysis is done on the selected sub-items.

Why did the lab results differ from my field test kit results?

Field test kits are only presumptive tests and therefore are not specific. This means that other substances may cause a reaction similar to a controlled substance.  Field test kits are also sensitive to extreme heat and have expiration dates.  It is advised that field test kits are kept at room temperature and are not used after the expiration date.  Also, after adding the sample, observe color change only up to one minute.  Most kits contain acids that will char the substance over time.  

Do you analyze growing marijuana plants?

Yes, however, it is encouraged to take pictures of the plants with their root systems then submit only a sample of the dried leaf material from each plant in separate packaging.  For large grow operations, please contact the drug section for direction.

Is it possible to get results faster for a specific case?

We take rush requests if the trial is coming up soon and the case has not yet been processed.  To get a rush put on a case, a letter sent to the lab indicating the date of the trial from the federal or county attorney is required.

What clandestine laboratory items are not accepted?

Containers with anhydrous ammonia are not accepted.  Labeled containers of muriatic acid or sulfuric acid are discouraged.  Similarly, acidic liquids or liquid/solid mixtures from unmarked containers and from used HCl generators are also discouraged.  Items, such as batteries and instant cold packs that are factory sealed need not be submitted. If excessive numbers of coffee filters with residues are present, a representative sampling of the group can be submitted and the remainder documented by photographs.   An inventory of pseudoephedrine tablets or empty tablet packaging can be submitted in lieu of the actual items.

How do I package clandestine laboratory items for submission to the lab?

A call to the Laboratory is suggested when there is uncertainty on the part of the submitter.  Liquids should be placed in glass jars.  Solids that are wet or damp should also be in glass jars.  Dry solids can be stored in either glass or plastic containers.  The preference for the outermost packaging of liquids and solids from clandestine laboratories is a plastic bucket with a tight lid.  This will keep fumes from surrounding areas and retain liquid, if leakage occurs.  A strong box is acceptable, if a plastic bucket is not available. 


What does it take to become a Drug Analyst?

Required educational background: Bachelor’s degree or higher in chemistry or a Bachelor’s degree or higher in a closely related field with an emphasis in chemistry.