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How a ‘Body Farm’ Might Help Tackle Fentanyl Abuse

The two women lifted a stiff corpse from the ground, revealing a squirming bug in the dirt.

“That one is a live larva!” said Alex Smith, the lab manager of Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, plucking the larva off the ground and stuffing it into a glass tube. Maggots aren’t just maggots, Mr. Smith explained — they’re potential evidence.

“You can actually test the larvae and pupa casings for drugs,” he said, excitedly.

His audience was a group of Mexican medical examiners who last month traveled to the Colorado facility, known as a “body farm,” where dozens of donated dead bodies are laid out in the sun to be studied as they decompose.

The Mexican forensic specialists came to learn about testing cadavers for fentanyl, which is how they wound up in a field of corpses, observing as a researcher foraged in the dirt for maggots.

A group of Mexican coroners watching as Alex Smith, center, the lab manager of Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, searches for maggots from underneath a decomposing body.

Their trip had been organized by the U.S. State Department, where officials hoped it would help achieve a key diplomatic goal: getting Mexico’s government to contend with its own fentanyl problem.

In northern Mexico, aid groups and rehabilitation centers have sounded the alarm about a rise in fentanyl use in recent years, reporting a wave of opioid overdoses along parts of the border with the United States. The Mexican government says the drug’s spread is contained, and that overall consumption remains relatively low.

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