Nearly 14,000 people in Canada have died from opioid overdoses in the last four years and more than 17,000 have been hospitalized in a report called Opioid-Related Harms in Canada by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In this post, we’re not looking at Canada’s opioid crisis itself, there are in-depth articles available that look at this complex and tragic issue. 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 heroine

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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.

This is important for first responders and law enforcement because fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin or eyes. First responders can also inhale fentanyl if it becomes airborne in extreme danger.

Synthetic drugs are on the rise and law enforcement and EMS are at particular risk for exposure. That’s why it’s so important that first responders protect themselves from accidental fentanyl exposure.

Keeping first responders safe from fentanyl exposure:

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

Detection

The Thermo Scientific™ TruNarc™ is an accurate and reliable handheld narcotics analyzer.

trunarc handheld narcotics analyzer

TruNarc capabilities include :

  • Can identify 250 illicit and abused narcotics in a single test
  • Provides clear, definitive results for presumptive identification with no user interpretation
  • Analyze key drugs of abuse as well as common cutting agents, precursors and emerging threats such as fentanyl and carfentanil
  • Scan directly through plastic or glass for most samples to minimize contamination, reduce exposure and preserve evidence

This handheld narcotics analyzer is even used by Edmonton Police Services to test multiple narcotics including fentanyl in a single test.

police car at night with lights flashing

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

Eyewear

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

  • 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.

Coveralls

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:

  • Coveralls or chemical-resistant and disposable protective sleeves that are impermeable, coated, and film-based.
  • Chemical-resistant/disposable boot covers are also recommended to reduce spread of contamination.
  • 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. We can help you find the best glove for your needs if you fill out this form.

  • 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.
  • Though glove color is a personal preference, a dark color glove may better assist with identifying and/or visualizing drug powder residue.
  • Pay attention to the AQL (Acceptable Quality Level).
    • This is a statistical measurement of the number of defects possible in a production run.
    • The lower the number, the better. Ideally you want at least a 0.65 or less (6 in 1000 potentially have a defect).

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.

If you need help selecting the right PPE for your first responders, get in touch with us today.

Michael Douglas

National Manager, Marketing Segments

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