Drug Field Testing Halted Because Of Fentanyl By Illinois Police

By Victoria Kim 03/07/18

Despite debunked fentanyl exposure myths, Illinois state police have opted to err on the side of caution when it comes to drug field testing.

 police officer talking to driver of stopped car

State police in Illinois will no longer conduct drug field tests, to avoid the risk of exposure to fentanyl.

While medical experts assert that mere exposure to fentanyl—the potent opioid painkiller-turned-street drug—is not enough to cause someone to overdose, emergency responders have decided to err on the side of caution.

State police in Missouri, Michigan, Oregon, Arizona, and now Illinois, have stopped drug field testing to protect officers from potentially harmful exposure to newer, stronger narcotics.

“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,” said Illinois State Police Sergeant Mike Link, according to Peoria Public Radio.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “as little as two milligrams is a lethal dosage in most people.”

Fentanyl, and the even more potent carfentanil, were developed for medical use, but now go hand-in-hand with heroin and counterfeit pills. In a briefing guide for first responders, the DEA established that accidental exposure to synthetic opioids by first responders is a “real danger.”

This can occur “under a number of circumstances,” said the DEA, “including during the execution of search or arrest warrants, the purchase of fentanyl during undercover operations, the processing of drug evidence containing fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances, or the processing of non-drug evidence (e.g., drug proceeds, pill presses, scales, or drug paraphernalia) which may be contaminated with these substances.”

According to the Associated Press, no police officers have died from fentanyl exposure, but “dozens of officers” became ill, including 18 last year in Pittsburgh.

However, medical experts, including poison center officials and toxicologists, say that the danger is overstated. “In reality, you have to internalize the toxin for it to affect you. Most commonplace contact, such as touching, or being in a room with an open bag, is not enough to cause a problem,” said Dr. Michael Beuhler, Medical Director of Carolinas Poison Center, in the Huffington Post. “Everyday contact with an open bag of the drug, or getting some powder on skin or clothes, is not going to cause toxicity.”

Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, agreed. He said, responding to reports that a police officer in Ohio had overdosed from fentanyl exposure, “If [Officer Chris Green’s] story is true, it would be the first reported case of an overdose caused solely by unintentional skin contact with an opioid.”

Beuhler said that officers like Chris Green are possibly having a panic attack and mistaking it for an overdose, based on the symptoms reported. “Big pupils, anxiety or chest pain are not signs of an overdose,” said Beuhler.

However, with illicit fentanyl, carfentanil, and new “designer drugs” being developed to meet the demand for potent opioids, police are not convinced that they’ll remain safe in the face of newer, stronger drugs.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr