Police Station Evacuated After Possible Fentanyl Exposure

By Maggie Ethridge 02/21/19

The substance believed to be fentanyl made its way into the police station after being confiscated from a suspect at See's Candy.

police officers standing outside after station is evacuated.

Sunnyvale, California police headquarters were evacuated this week after fentanyl sent multiple officers to the hospital.

It began with a patrol officer at the Department of Public Safety headquarters. The officer was exposed to what police were told was the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl, according to a police report on Thursday, reported The Sacramento Bee.

The report noted that the officer immediately felt “severe respiratory distress,” according to The San Jose Mercury News. The respiratory distress happened very quickly, according to Sunnyvale police spokesman Jim Choi.

Police officers are aware of the risk of an accidental overdose due to fentanyl exposure, now more than ever. The Drug Enforcement Administration issued an officer safety alert (that included all first responders) warning of the possibility of such an overdose, the symptoms, and how to respond. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than another deadly drug, heroin.

Police officers can, according to some experts, have a dramatic and overdose-mimicking experience after contact with fentanyl that is essentially a placebo effect. Scottie Wightman, a Kentucky emergency medical technician, went unresponsive after one call. He was treated with naloxone, but a drug test later showed there were no drugs in his system.

As a precaution, six officers from Sunnyvale's Department of Public Safety were hospitalized and evaluated for possible fentanyl exposure. All of the officers have since gone home and the evacuation was lifted on the evening of the incident.

However, Choi said the building was still under a “Level A” quarantine the next morning while crews processed police headquarters for hazardous materials, reported KTVU.

After the headquarters were completely evacuated, a hazmat team entered to retrieve the suspected fentanyl and “decontaminated the affected areas,” police said.

“The exposure was contained to DPS Headquarters and there is no threat to the community,” police wrote in a news release. “Police, fire and EMS services were not affected during this incident.”

The substance believed to be fentanyl made its way into the police station after an officer responded to a business called See’s Candy. A call had been made that a man was urinating in public, and police eventually arrested the suspect on two outstanding warrants in San Luis Obispo County, according to police. The suspect’s name was not released.

The suspect had a baggie that the police confiscated. The bag was filled with suspected narcotics, and the suspect reported to the police that fentanyl was part of the mix. Results are currently being procured at Santa Clara County’s crime lab, which according to Choi, is likely to take “some time.”

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.