Police officers across the nation are facing a new threat: fentanyl, an extremely addictive pain medication that is 100 times more addictive than morphine and 40 to 50 times stronger than heroin, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
There have been multiple instances in which officers have overdosed — and nearly died — while responding to drug-related 911 calls, according to the report.
What makes the drug dangerous is the skin's ability to absorb the drug. Just a few milligrams — about the size of a pinch of salt — can be deadly, the Journal revealed. And although fentanyl has been legal in the United States for decades, a newer version of the drug is coming across the border from Mexico and China. Drug dealers often mix their heroin with fentanyl because it is cheaper to produce and it is more potent.
"In Maryland, an officer overdosed after inhaling fentanyl while searching a home for heroin. An Ohio officer also overdosed on fentanyl after responding to a traffic stop," the Journal reported. "And in Florida, three trained police dogs overdosed while searching a house with suspected narcotics. Law-enforcement officials worry that such risks will rise as fentanyl proliferates across the nation."
After the Ohio officer faced exposure, acting Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Chuck Rosenberg sent a strong message to law enforcement officers: "Assume the worst. Don't touch this stuff or the wrappings that it comes in without the proper personal protective equipment," Cleveland.com reported.
Officers have been encouraged to treat drug-related incidents similar to shootings. They should slow down and approach the situation with vigilance. They are also required to wear protective gear before going inside a home that is suspected of having drugs.
Humans are not the only ones at risk. Fentanyl has a drastic impact on animals, too. When three drug-sniffing dogs in Florida sniffed a house for drugs, the drug made them drowsy and caused them to stare blankly. They were unable to stand or move. When the dogs were taken to an animal hospital, it was discovered that they had inhaled the toxic drug.
Medical examiners have also begun to wear protective gear when determining a person's death because the powdery substance can be carried on a dead body.
To help combat the problem, the state of Wisconsin opened its crime lab to law enforcement agencies around the state so unidentified drugs can be positively identified without putting officers in danger.
Wisconsin's decision came after an officer overdosed on fentanyl while performing CPR on a man who overdosed on the drug in June, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.