Risk of fentanyl exposure forces police to stop field-testing drugs

(New Hampshire State Police Crime Lab via STAT)
This photo from the New Hampshire State Police Crime Lab shows lethal doses of Heroin and fentanyl.(New Hampshire State Police Crime Lab via STAT)

LANCASTER, OH (WCMH) — Eleven SWAT officers were sickened in Connecticut last September after shooting a flash-bang device meant to stun those inside the home, instead causing the fentanyl on the table to go air-borne. Incidents like that have first responders locally and across the nation limiting any kind of contact with suspected drug in powder form.

Major Crimes Unit Commander Dennis Lowe said his officers and investigators dress in full protective gear when they suspect they could be seizing drugs. They are one of the units local law enforcement turns to when drugs need to be put into evidence and tested at crime labs.

That’s because the DEA states amounts of fentanyl and carfentanil the size of a pin head can be lethal.

“So this stuff can absorb through your skin and can cause you ill effects,” said Sgt. Sean Burke, Dayside Supervisor at the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office.

Now Fairfield County deputies and Lancaster police officers are being told to do what they can for victims, but let trained units handle drugs during a bust or heroin seized from an OD.

“There are more of both than I have seen in my 33 year career,” said Lt. Shane Wilson, First shift Supervisor for the Lancaster police.

He said drug-involved runs are tying up more officers and fentanyl is making their job even more dangerous.

“It can be absorbed through breathing if there is powder, and is lethal in small doses,” Lt. Wilson said.

The problem is fentanyl is tough to distinguish from other powdered drugs until it is tested in a crime lab.

“It is alarming as far as a patrol officer, you get on these overdoses now it is hard to tell what you are going to be dealing with,” said Sgt. Burke.

The Drug Enforcement Agency said in an Officer Safety Alert, carfentanil is approximately 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

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