Over 16,000 people in Canada have died from opioid overdoses in the last four years and more than 20,500 have been hospitalized in a report called Opioid-Related Harms in Canada by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

We don’t explore Canada’s opioid crisis itself in this post, there are in-depth articles available that look at this complex and tragic issue.

Protecting first responders from fentanyl exposure:

We’re looking at how paramedics, healthcare workers, first responders and police officer can protect themselves from fentanyl exposure.

3 fentanyl pills laying on a table with a pill bottle beside it.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

A speck of pure fentanyl, about the size of a grain of salt, can kill you.

Fentanyl poses a danger to first responders because it can be absorbed through the skin and eyes. First responders could also inhale fentanyl if it becomes airborne.

With drug use on the rise, first responders and law enforcement need to protect themselves from accidental fentanyl exposure.

How first responders protect themselves from fentanyl exposure:

First responders and law enforcement can take a number of steps to protect themselves from fentanyl exposure including:

  • Training
  • Wearing fentanyl protective clothing like gloves and respirators
  • Using a handheld narcotics analyzer

Handheld narcotics analyzer:

A handheld narcotics analyzer is a portable drug detector for narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens and analgesics.

We recommend the TruNarc™ Handheld Narcotics Analyzer from ThermoFisher Scientific™.

trunarc handheld narcotics analyzer

What TruNarc does:

  • Identifies more than 300 illicit and abused narcotics in a single test.
  • Provides clear, definitive results for presumptive identification with no user interpretation.
  • Analyzes key drugs of abuse and common cutting agents, precursors and emerging threats such as fentanyl and carfentanil.
  • Scans directly through plastic or glass for most samples to minimize contamination, reduce exposure and preserve evidence.

Edmonton Police Services uses TruNarc™ to test multiple narcotics including fentanyl in a single test. Read their case study here.

police car at night with lights flashing

Other ways first responders can protect themselves:

NIOSH doesn’t currently have any occupational exposure data on fentanyl among emergency workers. They do have some interim guidance surrounding various hazards.

When handling and processing fentanyl and its analogues, or if there’s a risk of fentanyl NIOSH suggests the following:

Respiratory protection:

  • Half-mask respirators: Choose a NIOSH-approved half-mask filtering facepiece respirator rated P100. Shop here
  • Full facepiece respirator: A tight-fitting full facepiece respirator with multi-purpose P100 cartridges/canisters. Shop here
  • Powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR): A PAPR with a HEPA filter may also be used. Shop here


Ideally, a full-facepiece respirator is used to provide respiratory and eye protection, but in the absence of a full-facepiece:

  • Indirect vented goggles: Use indirect vented goggles if using a half-face respirator. The purpose of the indirect venting is to limit or prevent the passage of liquid splash and dust into the goggle. Shop now


First responders who are performing any task that would potentially involved liquid-spray fentanyl, such as sweeping or “burping” bags to remove air, should wear dermal protection that covers their arms and legs:

  • Chemical-resistant coveralls: Look for coveralls that are impermeable, coated, and film-based. Shop now
  • Boot covers: Choose chemical-resistant and disposable boot covers to reduce the chance of spreading contamination. Shop here

Since fentanyl can be dissolved and/or the powder can move through seams, it may be prudent to use a garment with sealed seams.

Flame-resistant coveralls are recommended for work in clandestine labs in the event that Bunsen burners or other gas-operated, open-flame heat sources are present.

Hand Protection

Hand protection is absolutely essential for first responders who may be handling fentanyl. Here are some best practices.

  • Choose a nitrile glove that is at least 5 mil thick.
  • Replace gloves after 30 – 60 minutes of use. If gloves are torn or punctured, replace them immediately.
  • Double gloving is suggested.
    • If sleeve cuffs are present, the inner gloves should be worn under the sleeves, while the outer gloves should be placed over the sleeve cuff.
    • After handling the drugs, the outer gloves should be removed and properly disposed of while the inner gloves can be used to label evidence.
  • Always treat gloves as if they have been exposed.
    • Perform proper donning and doffing technique.
    • Wash hands as soon as possible with soap and water to remove any possible contamination.

Need help choosing PPE?

It’s important to understand that the exposure level can change and you have to adjust your PPE accordingly. You may also need higher levels of PPE to protect first responders from exposure to other chemicals present in addition to fentanyl.

Fill out the form below if you need help choosing the right PPE for your job.

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Michael Douglas

National Manager, Marketing Segments

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