Increasingly, it is firefighters, emergency medical technicians and police officers who accidentally breathed in fentanyl while collecting crime scene evidence.
The Drug Enforcement Administration on Tuesday issued an updated warning to law enforcement and first responders throughout the country about the dangers of handling fentanyl in light of a recent incident in which two police officers in New Jersey were exposed to the substance and became ill. "It felt like my body was shutting down".
"Exposure to an amount equivalent to a few grains of sand can kill you", Rosenberg warns in the video. "You can be in grave danger even if you unintentionally come into contact with fentanyl". "This message about fentanyl could save your life or the life of a colleague, so please listen".
The DEA is warning police and first responders to avoid field testing drugs and to wear equipment like gloves and masks, though Rosenstein notes even protective gear can not always keep officers safe.
Last year, a photo released by the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory highlighted just how little fentanyl-a mere three milligrams of the substance-could cause a lethal overdose compared with an equally deadly quantity of heroin (30 milligrams, or ten times as much).
A drug called naloxone can reverse opioid overdoses, but there's concern it's no match for synthetic opioids that continue to get stronger. A police officer involved in an OH roadside heroin bust May 12 overdosed after he got some powder on his uniform, despite using gloves and a mask while searching the suspect's vehicle.
Fentanyl can also be deadly for police K-9s, the DEA warned, so officers should take precautions.
"Something that looks like heroin could be pure fentanyl-assume the worst", he said. The preliminary numbers for 2016 show an increase to nearly 60,000 deaths, which would be the largest annual increase in American history.
"Fentanyl exposure can injure or kill innocent law enforcement officers and other first responders", Rosenstein said. "Don't touch this stuff or the wrappings that it comes in without the proper personal protective equipment".