Recommendations, Video, Seek to Dispel Myths About Fentanyl Exposure

In 2012, 2,628 U.S. residents died by overdosing on synthetic opioids other than methadone. Four years later, that number had increased by 639 percent to 19,413, according to a recent training video, Fentanyl: The Real Deal. Numbers like that give first responders nightmares and keep them up at night.

In addition to the overwhelming magnitude of overdoses, first responders also must deal with concerns about on-the-job exposure to the drugs. However, according to new recommendations developed by an Interagency Working Group comprised of 10 federal departments and agencies, medical experts agree that most daily encounters involving fentanyl do not present significant health concerns when first responders take appropriate protective actions. Those precautions start with the simple action of immediately washing thoroughly with soap and water following accidental skin contact with suspicious white powders, and continue through using proper personal protective equipment and even carrying naloxone to deal with overdoses.

Both the Fentanyl Safety Recommendations for First Responders document and the Fentanyl: The Real Deal training video seek to correct misinformation and myths regarding accidental fentanyl exposure, according to information provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the time of the video’s release on Aug. 30, 2018.

That increase in overdose deaths has been accompanied by an increase in reports of first responders describing apparent reactions to exposure; however, sometimes the reported symptoms are not consistent with opioid intoxication. The Working Group, coordinated by the White House National Security Council, met from August to October 2017 to create the recommendations. Released in November of that year, the recommendations are available as a one-page handout in either an 8.5 x 11 inch or 11 x 17 inch format. They address actions first responders can take to protect themselves from exposure, actions they can take in the event exposure occurs, and actions they can take if they or their partners show opioid intoxication symptoms.

To develop the six-minute, 40-second video, which grew out of the recommendations, the Working Group called on expertise from the medical, public health, law enforcement, fire/EMS, and occupational safety and health disciplines to inform development of the recommendations. The group then worked together with a number of stakeholder associations and organizations for a thorough review process.

“The priority for America’s sheriffs is the safety of deputies, officers and first responders, and this training will ensure that they have the training needed to keep them out of harm’s way. We appreciate the administration’s commitment to law enforcement and together we will limit these injurious incidents,” says Jonathan Thompson, executive director and chief executive officer of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA).

William G. Brooks III, chief of the Norwood (Mass.) Police Department and a member of the board of directors of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), adds: “This video will be a training asset for police departments nationwide, as well as for other first responders. The information it contains is clear and science-based, and the recommendations are straightforward. It’s obvious that the Federal Interagency Working Group went out of its way to use data from highly reputable sources, which resulted in a training tool that public safety agencies can rely on. The rise in fentanyl availability these past few years has created a risk — no doubt about it — but first responders should recognize that the risk can be mitigated by applying the recommendations in this new video.”

In addition to NSA and IACP, other reviewing organizations included the Fraternal Order of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Major Counties Sheriffs Association. Working group members included:

  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  • Office of National Drug Control Policy
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
  • U.S. Postal Inspection Service
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Article photo: Shapik Production/

About The Author

The Justice Technology Information Center is a component of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System, a program of the National Institute of Justice. JTIC serves as an information resource for technology and equipment related to law enforcement, corrections and courts, and hosts the NIJ Compliance Testing Program, a voluntary equipment standards and testing program for ballistic- and stab-resistant body armor and other officer safety equipment, which conducts equipment testing, reviews and analyzes testing data and disseminates results.

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