California Jail Guards Get Narcan After Possible Fentanyl Exposure

By Kelly Burch 03/27/19

This is not the first time that an officer has been hospitalized or received Narcan after being exposed to fentanyl.

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Two guards at a California jail were given Narcan and taken to the hospital after they began showing symptoms of opioid exposure. 

According to SF Gate, guards at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin searched a woman who was being booked in the jail. They found a black substance on the woman, but could not identify the drug. They examined it closely trying to discern what type of drug it was, while wearing gloves. 

However, after the examination was complete, one officer began feeling sick and showing signs of confusion. Soon after, the other officer complained of sickness as well. The staff at the jail suspected that the pair had been exposed to an opioid, and administered Narcan before transporting them to the hospital. 

First responders and law enforcement officials have been warned about the dangers of accidental fentanyl overdose, and this is not the first time that an officer has been hospitalized or received Narcan after being exposed to the drugs. 

“The presence of [synthetic opioids] poses a significant threat to first responders and law enforcement personnel who may come in contact with this substance. In any situation where any fentanyl-related substance, such as carfentanil, might be present, law enforcement should carefully follow safety protocols to avoid accidental exposure,” the Drug Enforcement Administration said in an officer safety alert issued last year

However, some research indicates that it is unlikely that first responders or others could accidentally overdose on even the most powerful synthetic opioids by touching the substance. 

“I would say it’s extraordinarily improbable that a first responder would be poisoned by an ultra-potent opioid,” Dr. David Juurlink, a researcher at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, told The New York Times. “I don’t say it can’t happen. But for it to happen would require extraordinary circumstances, and those extraordinary circumstances would be very hard to achieve.”

According to Vox, reports have shown that fentanyl is not easily absorbed through the skin, so accidental overdose is very unlikely. In one video by harm reduction advocate Chad Sabora, he tries to dispel this myth

Some people believe that the reports of first responders being harmed by exposure to synthetic opioids can trigger a type of placebo effect. That may have been the case with Scottie Wightman, a Kentucky emergency medical technician who became unresponsive after one call. Wightman was treated with Narcan and was seemingly revived, but drug tests later showed there were no drugs in his system. 

Jeremy S. Faust, an emergency room doctor in Boston, emphasized that first responders shouldn’t let fear of opioid exposure deter the care they give to the public. 

“I want to tell first responders, Look, you’re safe,” he said. “You can touch these people. You can interact with them. You can go on and do the heroic lifesaving work that you do for anyone else.”

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

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