Take Precautions to Prevent Overdose Exposure
The drug epidemic has had a devastating impact on the commonwealth. Last year, Kentucky experienced more than 1,400 heroin-related fatalities. In 2017, we already have seen a 7 percent increase over last year’s overdose numbers.
Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley recently testified in Washington, D.C. during a congressional hearing as one of four states hit hardest by the opiate devastation. The overdose crisis has hit many of us personally. Many of our blue family members have lost family and friends to this overdose plague. We pray for our blue family and all those across the commonwealth and country who have lost loved ones.
We are truly fortunate we did not lose Boyd County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Nattier, who recently was exposed to an opiate believed to be fentanyl. Nattier was responding to an overdose call when he came in contact with the substance. While removing the overdosing man from the car, Nattier noticed the man had a powdery substance on his clothing. When Nattier cleared the run, he began feeling the effects of the fentanyl he’d absorbed through his skin. He immediately drove to the local EMS station, where he was treated with Narcan.
If not for Nattier’s awareness about what was occurring and a quick response from EMS, we could be adding another name to our Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation monument. We are thankful for the positive outcome of this exposure.
We also have had an alarming increase in the number of law enforcement officers being stuck by needles. These are examples of situational awareness we have spoken about in our Check Your 6 awareness campaign. Now that we are responding to an ever-increasing number of overdoses, we all should be aware of the exposure dangers to ourselves. We must be aware of the potential risk when dealing with overdoses as well as drug suspects, and use appropriate precautions when possible.
After the incident, Nattier was quoted as saying, “We’re public servants … my priority was to get him out and get him breathing again. Regardless of how many [overdose calls] you go to, you can become callous to the situation. But at the end of the day, they’re still people. So the priority was getting him out and getting him breathing.”
Some may say officers should not risk exposure to these dangerous opiates by responding to overdose calls. But using Nattier’s example, we, as first responders, will be the first on scenes of this epidemic, and we must act. But just as the safety of the public is a priority, so is our own safety.
When responding to these calls, we must be aware of potential dangers of exposure to our own safety and must use appropriate precautions.
Remember, some opiates are transdermal. If you touch them, you can absorb the pharmaceutical through your skin. If it contains carfentanil, it could be deadly. Law enforcement officers should wear the proper protective gear when handling any drugs. This may mean protective gloves, or if conducting a raid on a dealer of fentanyl, you should treat the raid as if you were hitting a drug lab. This means protective gear for everyone, including respirators. In addition, you should not field test the drug under any circumstances. The less exposure you have to potentially fatal drugs, the better off you are.
Each day I am impressed by the examples of how our men and women serve the residents of the commonwealth with honor, commitment and respect. Responding to the drug epidemic is just one example of the service you provide! Be safe and check your 6 daily.
Safety tips taken from PoliceOne.com article, “Fentanyl exposure: 5 safety tips for cops,” published Sept. 19, 2016.