5 Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself From Fentanyl

The Fentanyl Crisis

We are in a fentanyl crisis in the United States. I don’t use the word crisis lightly. Here’s why: Between 2013 and 2014, fentanyl submissions to the DEA lab from Ohio increased by a whopping 1,043%. Along with those submissions came a 526% increase in fentanyl related overdose deaths. This all happened while fentanyl prescriptions dropped. There are several different types of fentanyl, with pharmaceutical fentanyl hundreds of times more potent than heroin. Right now, Carfentanil is the drug du jour that is receiving a lot of press time, but that can easily be replaced by another analog.

What is Driving the Fentanyl Craze?

So what is the driving force behind this new drug craze? Referring back to an opiate comparison chart I posted awhile back, fentanyl can be compared to taking 500-1000 codeine pills or fifteen times more potent than heroin. That sums up why it is so popular.

But, a recent DEA report outlines another reason why the fentanyl craze is exploding. According to the DEA:

“Traffickers usually purchase powdered fentanyls and pill presses from China to create counterfeit pills to supply illicit U.S. drug markets. Under U.S. law, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must be notified of the importation of a pill press. However, foreign pill press vendors often mislabel the equipment or send it disassembled to avoid law enforcement detection.”

Fentanyl is now being used as a cutting agent in heroin and has even been found in large shipments of cocaine coming from Mexico. As more addicts find the power of the drug, they will be making the switch to it.

The 2006 fentanyl crisis was fueled by a single clandestine laboratory in Toluca, Mexico, and once the laboratory was seized, the seizures of the drug and overdose deaths in the United States suddenly tapered off. The current fentanyl crisis is fueled by China-sourced fentanyls and precursor chemicals that are being sold to various individuals and organizations responsible for fentanyl processing and distribution operations; this scenario includes individuals linked to Mexican cartels and other criminal organizations that are not affiliated with Mexican cartels.

This problem won’t go away. At some point, the cartels will realize that fentanyl is easier to import and manufacture than keeping fields full of opium poppies. With its high potency and having an easier time on the supply chain, expect things to get worse, not better.

How to Keep Yourself from Accidental Exposure

When veterinarians handle and administer Carfentanil, they usually wear safety gear that is close to a full hazmat suit. Why do they do that? Because an amount of Carfentanil as small as a snow flake can kill a human. Obviously, police officers can’t wear a full hazmat suit when they investigate every drug crime, but here are some tips to help keep yourself from becoming the next fentanyl victim.

  1. Understand that it can kill you. Also understand that fentanyl can be used as a cutting agent in heroin or it can be pressed into a pill that can look like any other pharmaceutical. In California, an unscrupulous drug dealer pressed fentanyl into a pill that looked like an ordinary Vicodin. So the drug you encounter today can have fentanyl in it and you would never know it.
  2. Know that it is transdermal. That means that if you touched the heroin or Vicodin pill mentioned above, you can absorb it through your skin. If it had Carfentanil in it, that could be very deadly for you.
  3. Wear proper protective gear. That means that you should never handle any drugs, even pharmaceuticals or marijuana, without latex gloves. If you are conducting a raid on a dealer of fentanyl, you should probably treat that raid as if you were hitting a drug lab. That means protective gear for everyone, including respirators. In Hartford, 11 members of the SWAT team were hospitalized after a diversionary device (commonly called a flash bang) made fentanyl go airborne after it detonated and the team inhaled the fentanyl laced atmosphere.
  4. Do not field test suspected fentanyl. If you are handling suspected fentanyl, you should not field test the drug under any circumstances. The less exposure you have to fentanyl, the better off you are.
  5. Implement a naloxone program in your agency. Naloxone is an agent that reverses an opiate overdose. If you or your partner are exposed to fentanyl and are experiencing overdose symptoms, the naloxone you carry with you can reverse that overdose and you can live to fight crime another day.

The fentanyl crisis is going to be with us for a long time. Do everything you can to protect yourself by following these 5 easy steps. You owe it to yourself, your loved ones and our communities.

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.

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