3 Officers Exposed to Fentanyl: how to Prevent Exposure

3 Officers Exposed to Fentanyl

Three officers from a Northern California Police Department were recently exposed to fentanyl while investigating a drug crime. The officers had been dispatched to a man passed out behind the wheel of a car. They arrived and found the suspect unresponsive and with slow and shallow breathing. They tried to rouse him without success. The officers located a container with suspected heroin as well as several opiate pills that appeared to be common pharmaceutical schedule II drugs. After opening the container, the officers became light-headed, dizzy, and had jitters and shortness of breath.

The officers went to the hospital and they will be OK. However, for months, I have been advising police officers and agencies to stop field testing drugs found while investigating drug related crimes and to take precautions when handling drugs. Even schedule II and schedule III pills can actually be fentanyl or another synthetic opiate that was compressed into a pill form and made to look like a legitimate prescription.  This process, as well as information on other synthetic opiates, is outlined in our E-course Current Drug Trends.

Here are a few reminders to help you avoid being exposed to drugs that can be harmful to your health and safety.

Fentanyl Safety Training for Law Enforcement
Take the fentanyl safety course and protect yourself.

Be Aware of Current Synthetic Opiate and Fentanyl Trends

Many of these synthetic opiates can be disguised as common schedule II and III drugs like Norco, Vicodin or Valium. Synthetic opiates are also used as a cutting agent in heroin and cocaine. You can no longer handle cocaine, heroin and other drugs as you would have in the past. These synthetic opiates can be more than fifty times more potent than heroin. Synthetic opiates can be absorbed transdermally (through your skin) and can be inhaled as the drug is exposed to the atmosphere.

Minimize Your Risk

Minimize your exposure to these drugs by wearing proper protective equipment (PPE). Besides your uniform, wearing latex gloves is a minimum. You should not be touching any drug, including pharmaceuticals, without latex gloves on. Additional equipment can include a mask and eye protection.

Signs of Exposure & Steps to Decontaminate

You may know you were exposed if you start to experience disorientation, dizziness, coughing, sedation or respiratory distress. If you have been exposed, go directly to an area with fresh air. Flush your mouth and skin with water and be aware that the synthetic opiate may have transferred to your clothes.

Naloxone, which will be carried by your paramedics and some police officers, can be administered by qualified personnel. I do advise that all police officers start to carry naloxone for situations just like this.

Times have changed drastically for drug enforcers over the last year. Fentanyl overdoses, seizures and accidental fentanyl exposures are increasing in double and triple digits across the country. Awareness and training can greatly reduce the chances that you are the next victim of an accidental exposure.


Author: Keith Graves
Keith is a retired Police Sergeant and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years. Keith was named as California’s Narcotics Officer of the Year and is a prior winner of MADD’s California Hero Award. He has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor and is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292). Keith teaches both the DRE course and the Drug Abuse Recognition Course and has taught at the Police Academy. He has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges and currently consults POST on drug investigation procedures. Keith has held other assignments besides narcotics including Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and 20 years as a SWAT Team member and Sniper Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. He is recognized as an international drug expert and has testified as an expert in court proceedings on drug cases, homicide cases and rape prosecutions. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary's College of California and a MA in Criminal Justice. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.

Leave a Reply