Breanna Cuchara ’16, Criminal Justice-Forensics
Breanna Cuchara ’16 is making Becker College proud and helping to combat the widespread opioid drug abuse problem facing New England by bringing awareness to the issue, even before the completion of her degree.
Cuchara, a criminal justice major with a concentration in forensics, recently had the rare honor of presenting her undergraduate research paper, “The Impact of Fentanyl Use and Abuse” at the 68th Annual Scientific Meeting for the American Academy of Forensics Sciences (AAFS) in Las Vegas, NV. “I was able to speak with many experienced scientists and professors from different institutions,” Cuchara said. “It was an honor to attend the conference and to present there as a college senior.”
When Cuchara entered Becker College as a psychology major, she loved that Becker not only wanted students to go out in the world and be successful but also to use their skills to help change the world for the better. “I loved the atmosphere and how the students at Becker felt like a family,” she said. “I was inspired by the people I met and how passionate they were.”
Through Becker’s varied and well-rounded class offerings, Cuchara has since discovered her own passion for forensics and altered her studies accordingly. She will graduate from the criminal justice program this May. “I chose to study forensics because I am fascinated with how one small piece of evidence can tell a person a lot about what happened at a crime scene,” she said. “I love the scientific aspects of analyzing pieces of evidence and the technology behind the process. As part of Becker’s criminal justice program, I have most enjoyed building connections with significant professionals in the criminal justice field and my experiences in the crime lab, where I learned about different disciplines within the forensic science field.”
It was through her work in her criminal justice classes with Professors Kevin Woods and William Castro that Cuchara learned of and landed an internship in the summer of 2015 at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Concord, NH. There, she attended autopsies and organized files and relevant paperwork. “I worked closely with the medical examiners and the neuropathologist,” Cuchara said. “I was assigned to review a number of cases and their common neuropathologic diagnoses. The goal was to see if there was a correlation between injuries sustained by the victim and the corresponding injuries to the brain. I was also assigned to work with the evidence technician, reading and organizing toxicology reports.”
Through her research on neuropathologic diagnoses, Cuchara came across an interesting case about a little boy who had passed away from acute Fentanyl intoxication. Through organizing toxicology reports, she knew Fentanyl was a drug found to be the cause of many overdose deaths in New Hampshire. At the urging of Medical Examiner Thomas Andrew, MD and Chief Investigator Kim Fallon, Cuchara expanded her research to include the ease of misuse and abuse of Fentanyl and the problem in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She submitted an abstract for the AAFS Annual Meeting and was chosen as part of a highly competitive process to present her findings, which were also published in the AAFS Annual Meeting Proceedings and at www.aafs.org.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences is a multi-disciplinary professional organization that provides leadership to advance science and its application to the legal system. The objectives of the Academy are to promote professionalism, integrity, competency, and education, and to foster research, improve practice, and encourage collaboration in the forensic sciences.
According to Cuchara’s research, Fentanyl is a drug 100 times more powerful than morphine that can be used as anesthesia and as pain relief through a skin patch or lozenge. The skin patch is easy to misuse, even when attempting to use it correctly. And, Fentanyl is a drug with a strong street presence. “The chemical structure of Fentanyl allows manufacturers to create different variations, which are being sold on the streets,” Chuchara said. “Each variation can be different in its potency. Street users who attempt to buy heroin but end up with heroin laced with Fentanyl or Fentanyl alone are in an extremely dangerous situation that can lead to an overdose.” Massachusetts and New Hampshire are working to find new ways to combat the opioid issue broadly and the Fentanyl problem specifically, according to Cuchara, including providing additional funding for rehabilitation programs and making it illegal to be in possession of Fentanyl without a prescription.
Cuchara’s work at Becker and during her internship have led to her to develop an interest in forensic toxicology and death investigation, which she hopes to pursue at the graduate level in the future. “Becker has given me opportunities to experience things I would never have thought I could,” Cuchara said. “I would never have experienced my internship without the Becker criminal justice faculty.”
Also during her time at Becker, Cuchara has served as a Presidential Ambassador and a peer tutor at the Becker Collaborative Learning Center. She was a member of the Becker Hawks women’s basketball team, and traveled to Haiti and Jamaica on Becker service learning trips. “Becker provided me with so many hands-on experiences and different opportunities that have helped me figure out what I want to do after I graduate,” she said. “Also, Becker’s push to create global citizens with an Agile Mindset of empathy, divergent thinking, an entrepreneurial outlook, and social and emotional intelligence have taught me to care about the world I am living in and to work to positively impact others. No matter which field a student enters into, they will encounter different types of individuals in different scenarios. This is our future, and it is so important that we all try to contribute to making this world a better place—not just for ourselves but for all those around us.”