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Cops change drug handling protocol after fentanyl exposure

July 29, 2017

The Orlando Police Department is updating its protocol for handling drugs after a detective responding to an overdose incident was accidentally exposed to a narcotic and fell ill, officials said.

The changes, effective Tuesday, came after a detective was investigating a fatal overdose Saturday in the 2800 block of LB McLeod Road, said Orlando Police Chief John Mina.

“He was overcome and had trouble breathing — we believe because of the drugs that were in the room,” he said. “Those drugs were tested and came back [positive for] cocaine, but also heroin and fentanyl, so it’s possible he was feeling the effects of those drugs.”

The officer who experienced symptoms was taken to the hospital and released shortly after doctors ran drug tests, Mina said. Two other officers at the scene also were transported to the hospital as a precaution, but did not show signs of exposure to the drugs from the incident.

The chief said officers are already required to carry Narcan — a medicine that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose — as a step to treat victims and police alike, but the new directive aims to further protect officers who respond to suspected drug-related incidents.

OPD sent a memo to officers in late May after a police officer in Ohio had a severe reaction when he was exposed to fentanyl during a traffic stop. Mina stressed that the new instructions are meant to strengthen the earlier directive.

“The initial directive was to ensure that officers used the proper protection and used precautions when testing [drugs] and in some cases just send it to the lab,” he said. “This directive further strengthens that policy and adds an additional protection.”

The new protocol for officers who may come into contact with drugs that could contain fentanyl requires all sworn officers to carry disposable gloves, respirator masks, safety goggles, disposable gowns and disposable boot covers.

The standards also require that a minimum of two officers be present when handling suspected fentanyl or synthetic opioids.

“If our officers come upon a circumstance where they arrest someone for suspected heroin or fentanyl and have to handle the drugs to test it, then yes, they will put that protective gear on,” Mina said, adding that officers will still be expected to conduct some field drug tests, but should do so in open-air environments.

“Unfortunately, FDLE can’t test all of our drugs, so there will have to be some field tests done,” he said.

The protocol also bans eating, drinking and smoking while working around narcotics and requires immediate hand washing after finishing work in the potentially exposed area.

The OPD said fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled as a powder.

Besides safety procedures, new criminal penalties will soon be put in place for opioid-related offenses. On Thursday morning in Orlando, Gov. Rick Scott will sign HB 477, which creates new penalties related to synthetic opioid drugs, including fentanyl.


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