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Ex-Chemist In Massachusetts Was High On Drugs At Work For 8 Years

Nearly every day for eight years, a former chemist in Massachusetts was high on drugs — drugs stolen from the lab where she worked.

An investigation by the state attorney general found that from 2005 to 2013, Sonja Farak, 37, heavily abused various drugs including cocaine, LSD and methamphetamines and even manufactured her own crack cocaine using lab supplies. Though Farak was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to jail in 2014, the findings from the state's investigation into the scope of her misconduct were just released Tuesday.

During her career as a chemist, Farak worked for two years at the Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain, Mass., and then for nine years at the state drug lab in Amherst, Mass. According to the attorney general's report, "her responsibilities involved testing, for authenticity, various controlled substances submitted by law enforcement agencies" and testifying "in court as to her test results, which served as evidence in criminal cases."

About a year after moving to the Amherst lab, Farak started consuming the lab's reference "standard" drugs (the term given to substances bought from drug companies to serve as control in testing).

The first standard Farak admitted to using was the methamphetamine standard, which she said she tried out of "curiosity." From the investigation's findings:

"Farak testified that her primary reason for first using the drug was 'curiosity.' She indicated that she had researched the drug in the past and 'when she read about it,' she concluded, 'that's the one I am going to try if I am going to try it.' Farak enjoyed what she called the 'positive side effects' of the drug: it lasted a longtime and was an 'energy boost.' According to Farak, the 'high' from the drug lasted approximately 8 to 10 hours."

According to the report, by 2009, Farak had "nearly exhausted" the lab's entire stock of methamphetamine standard, at which point she turned to ketamine, cocaine, MDMA, LSD and other drugs — both lab standards and those submitted by the police.

Though Farak's drug abuse was rampant, she continued to perform satisfactory work in the lab where she worked, and her addiction went unnoticed, according to testimony from her colleagues.

In fact, one senior chemist who worked with Farak in the Amherst lab testified that she was "meticulous" and "dedicated to her work." The chemist said that he never noticed anything amiss with Farak until her last few months in the lab when, he said, her physical appearance was "deteriorating" and that she "seemed to be awful nosy about what was coming in," with regard to police samples from drug trafficking cases.

As Farak used more and more drugs and her supply diminished, she worried she would run out of drugs to feed her habit. The state attorney general's report says:

"As a result, by the fall of 2011, Farak had begun taking from samples and standards of base (crack) cocaine at the Lab. From that point on, she admitted, she became heavily addicted to base cocaine. This addiction resulted in her using base cocaine during work hours not only throughout the building in which the Lab was housed at UMass, but also in the Lab itself, including at her workstation."

She also began manufacturing crack cocaine using cocaine from the lab.

While Farak's drug abuse went wholly undiscovered, she did have a couple of close calls with authorities, as she testified before a grand jury. These accounts are from the investigation:

"In October 2012, the MSP inspected the Amherst Lab in order to assess the work of the Lab and move the Lab toward being fully accredited. Members of the MSP interviewed Farak and the other chemists during their visit. During the recent AGO investigation, Farak testified that she smoked crack cocaine on the morning of the MSP inspection and then also at lunchtime, prior to her 1 p.m. interview. According to Farak, during the course of the fifteen to twenty minute interview, there were no suspicions ever raised about her use of drugs.

"Farak had another close interaction with the MSP on January 18, 2013. Farak was scheduled to testify in a criminal trial at the Hampden County Courthouse. She indicated that she had a 'pretty fair amount of crack in her car.' Taking advantage of the opportunity during the lunch break, she went out to her car, ate lunch, and 'got pretty high.' However, when MSP members spoke to her in the Hampden County Courthouse about the trial for which she was scheduled to testify, the police never suspected her of being under the influence nor made any comment about her appearance or demeanor."

Eventually, in 2013, lab personnel discovered missing drug samples and irregularities in Farak's work. From there the unraveling was swift.

The Amherst lab was shut down, Farak was arrested, and eventually the state's investigation into the extent of her misconduct was launched. Farak pleaded guilty to four counts of tampering with evidence, four counts of larceny of controlled substances from a dispensary, and two counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. In 2014, Farak was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

As NPR member station WBUR reports, this is one of two recent cases of misconduct by state chemists. "In 2013, Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to evidence tampering, perjury and obstruction of justice for falsifying drug tests. Her actions may have affected up to 40,000 criminal cases in the state. Now, state officials worry that the number of cases affected by Farak could be just as high."

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