DHS Releases Guide for First Responders Managing the Fentanyl Crisis

Ensuring the health and safety of the nation’s first responder workforce, both human and canine is of paramount importance. In the course of day-to-day operations, law enforcement, fire, and EMS personnel could unknowingly be exposed to fentanyl or other opioids.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has released its recommendations for first responders handling the fentanyl abuse crisis.

Fentanyl emerges as a routine contraband that brings with it the risk of potential lethality from occupational exposure. Prior to fentanyl, concern regarding inadvertent inhalation and mucosal absorption of contraband drugs, such as cocaine and heroin and other illicit drugs, was limited to emergency operations targeting clandestine production labs and related industrial-level criminal drug activities where there was a large amount of drug-related particulates in the environment.

While these types of scenarios continue to pose an exposure threat to law enforcement, exposure risk for the overall first responder community has expanded from the more classic frontline point-of-care emergency medical providers to now include non-medical first responders, such as law enforcement.

The overdose epidemic requires, with increasing frequency, that first responders be vigilant in self-protection and must now incorporate naloxone administration as part of their routine first responder function.

DHS, together with Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, Office of Health Affairs, in collaboration with the Department of Transportation, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Office of Emergency Medical Services, sponsored a two-day working meeting on September 6 and 7, 2017, entitled “Protecting First Responders on the Frontlines of the Fentanyl Epidemic.”

Approximately 100 policy makers, leaders, and science and medical experts participated in the two-day meeting to address the ongoing and rapidly evolving fentanyl threat to the nation’s first responders.

Attendees represented subject matter experts from law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services (EMS), occupational safety and health, emergency medicine physicians and medical toxicologists, and public health entities from across the Federal, State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (FSLTT) communities.

The immediate goals of the working meeting were several:

  • Provide current, evidence-based information regarding fentanyl detection, recognition, exposure and exposure control to improve first responder protection across the FSLTT;
  • Dispel misinformation regarding suspected first responder exposures and intoxication; and,
  • To provide information on intoxication signs, symptoms and countermeasures.

The proceedings included 18 recommendations that DHS distilled from 40 key messages associated with the working meeting.