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DEA Warns First Responders of Fentanyl Overdose Risk
Just how dangerous is fentanyl?
The synthetic opioid painkiller that’s usually mixed into heroin is turning up almost everywhere.
Fentanyl is so dangerous that the Drug Enforcement Agency has issued a formal warning to law enforcement and paramedic first responders to be super-careful when responding to any situation or emergency that involves drugs.
Fentanyl and its equally dangerous synthetic derivatives are threatening the lives of anyone that comes in contact with it.
Fentanyl can be ingested orally, inhaled through the nose or mouth, or even absorbed through the skin or eyes. And a tiny amount, 2-to-3 milligrams (like 5-to-7 grains of salt) can cause respiratory depression and even death.
As a recent report said, brushing a speck of fentanyl smaller than a snowflake off your shirt with a bare hand can kill you.
The DEA warning guide
The DEA Warning Guide is a comprehensive and highly-technical 19-page report that also includes the history and development of fentanyl and its derivatives such as carfentanil – often called “elephant tranquilizer” in the media and its role in today’s opioid epidemic.
The guide cautions first responders to get educated about fentanyl and its many derivatives, and trained to recognize the drug when they see it. The DEA says that to be properly protected from any contact with the drug, first responders should at least use the basics – gloves, dust masks, safety glasses and disposable paper suits and shoe covers.
Entering a lab or “pill-milling” location is another story altogether, and requires full HAZMAT protective gear – and immediate notifications to the building’s owners and occupants.
The agency also says that first responders should always have a supply of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone with them. Fentanyl can bring on an overdose so quickly and unexpectedly that naloxone – and several doses of it – should be close at hand.
The DEA has also released Fentanyl Roll Call, a video for all law enforcement and first responders nationwide, about the deadly consequences of improperly handling fentanyl.
Not news to the feds
The fentanyl problem is not so new to the DEA. Following a surge in its use in 2013, the DEA formed a Heroin-Fentanyl Task Force (HFTF) in 2014 to address what was becoming a serious national health problem.
The HFTF involves at least six government agencies, all working together to facilitate what is called “a whole of government approach” to the fentanyl and synthetic opioid epidemic in the United States.
The HFTF currently includes people from the DEA, Homeland Security (HIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the FBI, the IRS and even the Post Office Inspection Service – this last agency because most synthetic opioids have been arriving in North America from China by mail.
China agrees to crack down on fentanyl
During the 1st quarter of 2017, the DEA ID’d 230 fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances in seized drugs. Fentanyl was found in combination with heroin in 61 percent of the samples, as well as with U-47700, alprazolam, ketamine and cocaine in other samples.
Most of this fentanyl comes from China or Mexico – highly refined from China, not so refined from Mexico. As we reported in April, China has agreed to crack down on fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.
Although it’s usually a chunky or powdered substance, Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are turning up as pills or capsules that look like OxyContin (oxycodone), Xanax (alprazolam) and other diverted pharmaceuticals. The dangers are the same as when mixed into heroin.
The DEA says criminals love fentanyl-type drugs because they’re so cheap and they boost the effect of other drugs when mixed into them.
“Due to the elevated potency of fentanyl over traditional opioid drugs (i.e., heroin), criminal organizations can use one kilogram of fentanyl to produce approximately 1 million 1-milligram counterfeit pills, resulting in potentially 10-to-20 million dollars in revenue,” the DEA says. “There are also reports that consumers in some areas are seeking fentanyl over heroin, as the ‘rush’ is greater.”
DEA Guidelines will save lives
The rush may be greater, but overdose deaths involving fentanyl are soaring and the drug is definitely threatening our first responders.
We recently read about a policemen who returned to the station after a drug bust, noticed a speck of white on his shirt, brushed it off and fell immediately into an overdose. The speck turned out to be fentanyl. Fortunately, fellow officers saved his life with naloxone. There have been numerous similar reports recently.
The new DEA fentanyl safety guidelines will help protect our first responders in the field. And we hope our report will help protect you. If you or anyone you care about needs help with opioid use or misuse, call Novus Detox today.
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