Washington — The Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, has released a video intended to protect first responders who face potential exposure to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid considered up to 50 times more potent than heroin.
First responders, including law enforcement, fire, rescue, and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, are increasingly likely to encounter fentanyl and other synthetic opioids when responding to overdose calls, conducting traffic stops, arrests and searches, and securing the border.
The video highlights protective actions first responders should take to perform daily activities safely when the presence of fentanyl is suspected, actions to take when exposure occurs, and steps to take when individuals exhibit signs of opioid intoxication.
The video provides scientific, evidence-based recommendations to protect against exposure to fentanyl and will be an essential training tool for first responders as they continue to fight on the front lines of the opioid crisis.
According to the video, 19,413 synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths occurred in 2016 – a 639 percent increase from 2012. Using testimonials from federal medical personnel, the video offers guidance to law enforcement as well as fire, rescue, and emergency medical personnel.
Signs of fentanyl exposure include drowsiness or unresponsiveness, slow or no breathing, and constricted or pinpoint pupils.
The video advises workers who anticipate exposure to fentanyl to wear personal protective equipment, including gloves, respirator masks, and eye protection. Fentanyl may be present as a powder, tablet, capsule or other form and may be inhaled as an airborne powder or absorbed through contact with skin.
Workers who suspect they have been exposed to fentanyl should:
- Prevent further contamination;
- Refrain from touching their eyes, nose, and mouth;
- Wash the exposed area with soap and water – not hand sanitizer; and
- Remove exposed clothing via standard decontamination processes, as needed.
Dr. David Tarantino, senior medical adviser to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in the video, “The threat of fentanyl is real, but we’re showing a multilayered defense that will keep first responders safe while they do their job and keep the rest of us safe.”
The video accompanies safety recommendations for first responders exposed to fentanyl issued in November 2017 by a Federal Interagency Working Group coordinated by the White House National Security Council.