Protecting first responders from dangerous drugs - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Protecting first responders from dangerous drugs

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(file photo) (file photo)

The opioid crisis continues to make its presence known across the country and in western Mass.

More and more police officers are being accidentally exposed to dangerous drugs, putting their lives at risk.

As the opioid crisis continues to take hold, more neighborhoods are hearing the sirens and seeing the tragic results, but as officers respond in an emergency, their lives are on the line as well, potentially being exposed to the drugs in the air and by contact.

"Our officers are definitely concerned, but at the same time getting prepared for these types of exposures," said Chicopee Officer Mike Wilk.

The Chicopee Police Department is one of several concerned, especially after what happened to three policemen in Chelsea, just north of Boston.

While responding to a car crash, the officers inhaled fentanyl once it became airborne in the van.

The drug enforcement agency describes fentanyl as a powerful narcotic being mixed with heroin, making it 100 times stronger.

The officers were treated and are okay, but said with only brief contact, a new danger now faces them on the streets.

"Something as simple as a traffic stop, or going into someone's house for a disturbance call. I need to make sure I'm safe, I can't get exposed, I can't get hit by a needle, because if I'm down, I can't help the person that we were called to help."

So when the calls come in, how can officers be protected? We asked several police departments what they are doing.

Officers have gloves on them at all times to avoid any hands on contact, but what about masks?

Police said the problem for officers is the unknown of what will be on scene.

Alert ambulance told Western Mass News EMT's tend to already know the nature of the call, while police are often first on scene.

The Center for Disease Control bases their protection on 3 levels of exposure.

  • Minimal -fentanyl present, not visible--> gloves
  • Moderate-small amount visible--> gloves, safety goggles, long sleeves
  • High- large amount visible--> gloves, safety goggles, long sleeves, air respirator

Minimal, moderate, and high, allergy free gloves are recommended at all levels, while safety goggles and long sleeves are added for moderate.

Hazmat units are called in for any high level exposure.

"No officer wants to become exposed to this. No officer wants to have an accidental overdose. We want to go home every day like everyone else, see our families, and just do our job."

Police are also warning people the dangers of carfentanyl, which is 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

Police say only a spec of it can kill you, and while it has not made its way to western Mass. either, it’s important to educate the public to prevent people from going down the wrong path.  

Copyright 2017 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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