- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

PIKESVILLE, Md. (AP) — As a chemist dedicated to Howard County drug cases, Joshua Yohannan tests substances to identify them, looks for unusual or new illegal drugs and testifies against suspects at trial.

For more than a year, county police have employed Mr. Yohannan as their chemist. He works on Howard cases at the state police Forensic Science Laboratory in Pikesville.

Having a chemist who handles just Howard cases has meant quicker drug identifications, tougher charges and fewer court delays, said Lt. Keith Lessner, commander of the Howard County Police Department’s vice and narcotics unit.

Before Mr. Yohannan’s arrival, a state chemist would analyze drugs and testify in Howard County cases. But those chemists also would handle seizures from other counties. If two cases were scheduled for trial the same day, the chemist would attend the one that was booked first, Mr. Yohannan said. A judge would delay the other case or toss it out when the chemist did not arrive.

“In the past, [acquittals or delays] have happened plenty of times — more likely than not,” Lt. Lessner said.

Mr. Yohannan handles about 20 drug seizures a week. He wears a lab coat, latex gloves and protective eyewear to avoid evidence contamination.

He checks to make sure the serial numbers on the heat-sealed evidence bags match the inventory, notes descriptions of their contents and checks to make sure nobody has tampered with the bags. Mr. Yohannan cuts open the bags with scissors at his desk in the lab and analyzes each drug.

One seizure included a pink tablet with a bunny logo. Mr. Yohannan crushed it with a mortar and pestle, dripped a solution of sulfuric acid and formaldehyde into a tray, then sprinkled the pink powder on top of it. As expected, the mixture turned purple, then black — and a few granules turned orange.

The triple-color change meant the pill contained MDMA, or Ecstasy, and methamphetamine, a far more dangerous and addictive drug.

Mr. Yohannan also uses computer analysis to confirm initial findings on complex substances, such as cocaine and Ecstasy.

His discovery of glitter in one pill, thought to be a marketing tactic, resulted in a mention in Microgram, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s newsletter.

“When he sees something unusual, he’s going to give us a call,” Lt. Lessner said. “And he’s able to update us on the quality of the drugs, particularly cocaine, so we can get a sign of where we’re at on the food chain.”

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