Airborne Fentanyl Temporarily Closes Jail Intake

By Kelly Burch 05/08/18

An uncooperative inmate accused of fentanyl trafficking led to a lockdown in one Maine jail.

Prison guard escort inmate throught corridor in jail

The intake of a Maine jail was temporarily closed last week after it was contaminated by fentanyl brought in by an inmate accused of trafficking. 

According to the Portland Press Herald, the intake at Cumberland County Jail was closed for about two hours last Friday. Intake officers were searching Brent Gross, 29, of Westbrook, Maine, who was arrested on charges of possession and trafficking of fentanyl.

Gross was uncooperative during the intake process, not wanting to give up the drugs that were in his possession. He ultimately had to be restrained, but during the process some of the fentanyl that was on his person was spilled onto the floor. 

The corrections officers in the intake room were treated for fentanyl exposure at Maine Medical Center and cleared to return to work. The intake area was closed from about 4-6 p.m. so that it could be decontaminated. During that time, the rest of the jail was put in lockdown. 

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that has become more common in recent years. Because it is extremely potent, exposure to even a small amount of fentanyl can cause symptoms and even overdose. This has caused first responders to be more aware of the dangers of accidental exposure when dealing with people who have been in contact with fentanyl. 

In Illinois, the state police have stopped conducting field tests of suspected drugs because of the risk of exposure to synthetic opioids. 

“What we were seeing what was happening in law enforcement was officers opening something, like powder, and not knowing what it is, and boom, next thing you know, they’re overdosing on the drug,” Illinois State Police Sergeant Mike Link said in March. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also issued a briefing for first responders to be aware of the dangers of fentanyl exposure while executing search warrants, etc. 

Last year, an Ohio police officer reportedly overdosed and needed multiple doses of naloxone after breathing in fentanyl that he brushed off his uniform. 

"I instinctively reached around to pull the tail of my shirt to the front, by then it was already too late,” said Chris Green of the East Liverpool Police. “I had placed my thumb, and index finders in it and tried to brush it off. I don't know if it went through my skin or if it became airborne when I wiped it off, or a combination of both.”

He told another officer that he didn’t feel like himself, before slipping into unconsciousness. 

“I just started mumbling. The last thing I think I remember is falling backwards into the door,” Green said. 

However, some say it's not possible to overdose on fentanyl simply by contact with the skin.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.