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With Synthetic Opioids On the Rise, Feds Look to Protect First Responders

June 09, 2017  | 

Some chemical agents used to process illicit drugs are so toxic that even non-users and emergency responders are at risk of an overdose, the Drug Enforcement Administration warned police departments across the United States this week. In Alaska, where the governor has labeled heroin and opioid abuse an epidemic, police are heeding that advice, reports the Alaska Dispatch News.

Alaska's state troopers and health and human services workers are making plans to adjust trainings for officers, first responders and members of the general public who may come into contact with people who have overdosed on opioids or heroin that is laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin.

"Something that looks like heroin could be pure fentanyl — assume the worst," said Chuck Rosenberg, acting head of the DEA.

In 28 years working in law enforcement, "this is the first time I can remember dealing with a substance that was capable of not only harming" the people who willingly inject it, but also "the public at large and first responders," said Capt. Michael Duxbury, who runs the Alaska State Troopers' statewide drug enforcement unit.

Currently, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is leading trainings for troopers and others on how to use naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, a nasal spray that acts as an antidote for people who have overdosed on opioids. The agency is also working to get overdose-reversal kits with Narcan in the hands of those who may be around people who overdose, not just medical and law enforcement professionals.

The current plan is to soon update training to make sure that first responders — both professional and man-on-the-street early intervenors — are aware of the risks posed by contact with fentanyl. "We have worked on a policy to deal with this problem and it should be finalized soon," Duxbury said.

"It has become increasingly more obvious we may need to save the lives of first responders," Duxbury said.


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