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DEA issues warning to police, public minor Fentanyl exposure can be fatal

June 28, 2016  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
DEA issues warning to police, public minor Fentanyl exposure can be fatal

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The dangerous drug fentanyl, which has been implicated in the overdose deaths of thousands of Americans, now poses a serious threat to members of law enforcement, forcing changes in protocol often taken during narcotics investigations, including testing, undercover operations, and confiscations, authorities have reported.

Overdoses have substantially escalated from narcotics such as heroin, synthetic prescription pills and even synthetic marijuana that are now commonly laced with fentanyl to increase its strength, although investigators say that drug is frequently sold on its own as well.

“A minuscule amount, about the size of a few grains of salt, runs the possibility of killing a 250-pound man, Tommy Farmer,” special agent in charge of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said in an interview.

Exposure to the drug can bear its effects just through contact with skin and can even be inhaled if it becomes airborne.

Because such a tiny amount can be fatal, police departments across the nation are altering the way they go about keeping their officials safe.

The Special agent in charge of the D.E.A’s office in St. Louis, James Shroba, said officials are now even instructed on how to administer themselves the anti-overdose Narcan if they are inadvertently exposed to the substance because “if they actually touch it or inhale it, they could die.”

Shroba continued, “This is a whole different dynamic of how we process evidence.”

Fentanyl is considered an artificial opiate and can be legally used, typically in the form of a patch, for the treatment of severe pain such as in late-stage cancer patients.

The DEA last week issued a warning video to members of law enforcement on the dangerous consequences of not handling fentanyl correctly.

The street version of the drug, typically manufactured in China or Mexico, comes in many versions, such as spray, patches, powder, and tablets.

The DEA warns that fentanyl could be 40 to 50 times the strength of heroin. Others say its potency can range because it is haphazardly produced, which ultimately creates the potential for immediate death. Superstar Prince died from an overdose of fentanyl back in April. However, detectives are still investigating whether the substance was obtained illegally or legally.

However, detectives are still investigating whether the substance was obtained illegally or legally.

“Fentanyl can kill you and is now is being sold as heroin in virtually every corner of our country. It’s produced clandestinely in Mexico, and (also) comes directly from China. It is 40 to 50 times stronger than street-level heroin. A very small amount ingested, or absorbed through your skin, can kill you,” Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley said on a DEA video released last week to law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Fentanyl and other counterfeit opioids were implicated in approximately 5,554 deaths back in 2014, which is a 79% increase compared to 2013, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Although the statistics for 2015 and 2016 have not yet been released, narcotics officers believe that the numbers will have likely skyrocket.

The threat reaches beyond the consumer. The drug’s potency can cause it to be fatal for first-responders. No officer deaths have been attributed to fentanyl. However, authorities have reported close calls.

Detective Dan Kallen and his colleagues in Atlantic County, New Jersey were conducting a search of a home back in August when they discovered drug paraphernalia along with a bag of white power. When they opened the bag of what appeared to be some type of drug, they conducted a field test to identify its type. As Kallen sealed the bag, a small amount of the substance went airborne, and both the detectives became sick instantaneously.

Kallen, 40, stated: “It hit us like a ton of bricks … It became very difficult to breathe. Our hearts were racing. We were nauseous, close to blacking out. I felt like, ‘Holy crap, I’m going to die right now.'”

Both investigators were raced to the nearest hospital and luckily were able to make full recoveries. After testing had been conducted, it was revealed that the seized drug was cocaine and heroin laced with fentanyl.

Combating the drug enterprise is naturally dangerous. Not only do officers face violent threats from the individuals distributing the drugs, but officers are also now facing the risks of unintentional needle pricks, fires from meth production labs, and accidental exposure to potentially deadly chemicals.

Farmer said, “We definitely see it as the next big danger, … With fentanyl, if the officer is simply patting somebody down, or if he’s getting a little bit out to try to do a field test and it accidentally comes in contact with his skin or the wind blows it in his face, he could have a serious problem.”

The DEA published a memo this month requesting that officers use caution from the beginning of a stop. Officers are urged to wear shielding gloves before reaching into individuals pockets to avoid potential skin contact with unsecured fentanyl, and to also wear masks to protect their lungs if it converts and becomes airborne.

The DEA is pushing against field testing of substances, citing that any seized materials should be transported to a lab right away.

The drug has also compromised undercover efforts as well, which serves as the basis of many investigations.

Lt. Jason Grellner from the Sherrif’s Department in Franklin County (Missouri) said undercover cops are being informed only to accept drugs in aluminum foil or baggies.

Grellner, who also serves as the president of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association, added, “Any number of things can occur and kill you.”

“We’re telling our people, ‘If someone is telling you this is methamphetamine or heroin, don’t take their word for it. Assume it is fentanyl,” said Sgt Mike Toles of the Indiana State Police.

The DEA has Narcan immediately on standby during undercover investigations, with other officers supervising from afar in case they are needed to assist the undercover cop in the event of exposure.

These concerns also apply to police dogs, in which they can be quickly exposed if they breathe in too much fentanyl. The DEA memo urges caretakers to exercise caution with their K9s.

Shroba said, “They’re going to take in a larger dose because that’s how they’re trained to sniff it out.”

Kallen, who has on the force for 15 years, said his experience has exponentially altered the way that he carries out his job, adding”  A majority of our stuff has fentanyl in it … We don’t even field test. It’s not worth it to open up those bags and put that stuff in the air or get it on your skin.”

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