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DEA to cops: Fentanyl can kill you too

Police warned nationwide of fentanyl poisoning after two N.J. detectives inhaled a small amount.

June 16, 2016

He and his partner were overcome by the effects of the opioid, which is often prescribed to alleviate end-of-life or cancer pain.

"I thought that was it. I thought I was dying," the other detective said. "It felt like my body was shutting down."

Melvin Patterson, a DEA special agent at the Washington, D.C., headquarters said police should wear masks and gloves if they're handling purported fentanyl or heroin, and go without field testing.

Instead, DEA Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley encouraged in the video, go directly to a crime lab, which has proper safety equipment.

Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky officers are heeding the warning, and some already had protocols that matched the DEA's.

"We instruct the officers to use protective gear, including gloves and masks if necessary, when processing the evidence, and direct them not to conduct any field tests of suspected fentanyl, unless they are in the safer environment of our evidence room," said Lt. Brad Winall, commander of the Cincinnati Regional Narcotics Unit. The task force operated by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigates drug trafficking cases in Greater Cincinnati.

Agents also mark the outside of evidence bags and the inside of plastic bags containing the suspected drug to warn lab personnel of their contents, Winall said.

Chris Conners, director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, received the DEA video. He said his officers are following its advice. He has distributed the video to other Northern Kentucky police departments, since they, too, are called to suspected drug scenes and help handle overdoses.

Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, who heads the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task Force, said the DEA warning illustrates another hazard for police and emergency medical personnel during the nationwide heroin epidemic.

"This is just another danger the officers on the street are facing: worrying about being stuck with a needle, not just the potential for hepatitis C and HIV but also if fentanyl," Synan said. The same goes for paramedics and other emergency responders, he said.

Fentanyl can be absorbed into the body through inhalation, oral exposure, injectionor skin contact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns. Patterson noted that it also can get into the bloodstream through a cut or other open wound in the skin. Fentanyl is often injected by unwitting drug users who believe it to be heroin, the DEA and state and local law enforcement officials said.

"All of this shows how much of an impact heroin and fentanyl have on our families, our communities, but also on the officers who are facing just as life-altering or deadly consequences from these drugs, making the dangers of this epidemic even more concerning," Synan said.

He said he has instructed his officers to treat any suspected heroin as if it contains fentanyl, and any overdose call as one caused by fentanyl.

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