Police officers have been warned about a drug so powerful it can kill in just one breath. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein issued a warning over the opioid drug fentanyl after an officer collapsed last month after brushing the drug off his shirt.
Rosenstein issued a strong warning to police to take extreme care whilst handling the drug, which hospitalized officer Chris Green. Green, of the East Liverpool Police Department, Ohio, brushed the substance on his shirt after arresting two suspected drug dealers.
“Just out of instinct, he tried to brush it off, not thinking,” fellow officer Wright told The Sun.
Green collapsed shortly afterward. Fortunately, he was caught by another officer, and aided by medics who were already on the scene from a previous incident. They were able to treat him with naloxone, a drug used to block the effects of opioids in overdose, and take him to hospital where he received three more doses, The Morning Journal reports.
Green has since made a full recovery, but DEA agent Rosenstein warned that police should take extra precaution when handling the drug, and should not eat, drink or smoke in places where fentanyl is suspected to be present.
"Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more deadly than heroin. Just 2 milligrams – the equivalent of a few grains of table salt – an amount that can fit on the tip of your finger – can be lethal," Rosenstein said in a statement, published by CNS News.
"Fentanyl exposure can injure or kill innocent law enforcement officers and other first responders. Inhaling just a few airborne particles could be fatal. Our police officers and first responders face this danger every day.
"This is not a hypothetical problem. Law enforcement officers have already suffered exposures to fentanyl in New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut…Three weeks ago, a sheriff’s deputy in my home state of Maryland responded to an overdose scene. He was exposed to opioids and needed a dose of Narcan to reverse the effects."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain medication 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It's often used as an anesthetic or as a patch for chronic pain management. The drug has been used recreationally in the US since the 1970s.
"The spread of fentanyl means that any encounter a law enforcement officer has with an unidentified white powder could be fatal," Rosenstein added.
The DEA warned that packages found near overdose victims with a return address from China could indicate the presence of fentanyl. Police should wear protective gear including gloves, eye protection, and face masks when handling the suspect package. Everyone else should just stay well clear.