From a routine traffic stop to a drug bust, everyday police work is wrought with danger. But more than just the obvious risk of dealing with criminal perpetrators, there are hidden dangers that can be just as deadly. One of newest problems encountered by officers on the streets is a drug called fentanyl.
Fentanyl and other related drugs pose a serious risk to law enforcement, public health workers, and first responders who could unknowingly come into contact with these substances during routine work. Police working dogs are also at risk. Common avenues of exposure include inhalation or contact.
How Dangerous is Fentanyl?
The increasing popularity of the drug, as well as it’s potency, are what make fentanyl so dangerous. According to the drug comparison chart used by pharmacists, fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, and fifteen times more potent than heroin.
In recent news, 11 SWAT officers were recently sickened after exposure to heroin and fentanyl during a raid. A flash-bang grenade tossed into a suspected drug house released powdered fentanyl and heroin into the air, which the officers then inhaled. In another case of fentanyl exposure, an officer mistakenly brushed fentanyl off his uniform following a traffic stop and subsequent drug bust.
Protect Yourself From Exposure to Fentanyl
One of the biggest challenges facing officers is a lack of basic equipment and the specialized training necessary to deal with fentanyl. Few officers carry much in the way of PPE. Latex gloves are the standard for investigations, but these are intended to protect the crime scene more than your health.
If you suspect fetanyl or another dangerous substance might be present on the job or at a crime scene, here are some tips to help keep yourself from becoming a victim:
- Remember that fentanyl is transdermal and hard to recognize.
Some dealers have been known to make fentanyl into pills that like vicodin or other drugs. Its also used as a cutting agent in heroin. Though inhalation is the most common means of exposure, merely touching a surface contaminated with fentanyl can lead to an overdose.
- Wear proper protective gear.
Respiratory gear and other equipment is required for those entering areas contaminated with fentanyl, but precautions should also be taken in cases where contamination is suspected. NIOSH recommends wearing nitrile gloves of 5 mil strength or higher when handling fentanyl-related compounds. Powder-free nitrile gloves are recommended; powder particulates from the glove may absorb the narcotic compounds which may increase the potential for dermal contact/absorption during doffing and spread contaminants to unintended surfaces. Double gloving is HIGHLY recommended.
- Learn how to properly put on and remove PPE.
Get familiar with the proper ways to don and doff PPE, especially gloves. Training programs and information is available online or through certified safety organizations. Improper wear or removal could lead to exposure – so don’t take chances!
- Do not field test suspected fentanyl.
If you suspect fentanyl, follow proper protocol and avoid touching or moving the drug. The DEA recommends that proper tests should be conducted by professionals in a laboratory setting. Brush up on local proper policies and procedures regarding handling before you’re faced with a situation.
- Carry naloxone when investigating suspicious scenes.
All officers and departments should be familiar with naloxone and how to use it. Naloxone reverses an opiate overdose. If you or your partner are exposed to fentanyl and experience overdose symptoms, naloxone can reverse that overdose and potentially save your life.
Aftermath Cares About Police Officers
It’s important to note that most crime scene cleanup companies like Aftermath do not offer biohazard removal in situations involving fentanyl or similar drugs. However, each of our technicians is trained has received PPE training to protect them in cases of accidental exposure.
We know how important helping your community is to you. Remember that you also owe it to yourself, your loved ones and your communities to do what it takes to protect yourself during this drug crisis. To learn more about the dangers of fentanyl and how to protect yourself, visit the CDC website.
Also, don’t forget to please take a moment to tell us your story. The Aftermath Service Grant competition is going on now. You could win $5000 to help your favorite cause or charity.