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Protecting first responders from fentanyl exposure: NIOSH releases video

Safe Work Practices
Photo: NIOSH

Washington — NIOSH has released a video intended to protect first responders who face potential exposure to fentanyl – a synthetic opioid considered up to 50 times more potent than heroin – and other illicit drugs.

The 13-minute video, Illicit Drugs, Including Fentanyl: Preventing Occupational Exposure to Emergency Responders, features body camera footage from members of the Fredericksburg (VA) Police Department responding to an overdose call at a hotel. The incident led to two officers suffering the effects of exposure to illicit drugs, including fentanyl, and being administered naloxone.

“Take your time and slow down,” Fredericksburg Police Officer Jonathan Piersol, the responding officer who was given the naloxone, said in the video. “If you rush, you’ll make small mistakes, and those could cost you.”

First responders are at risk of exposure to illicit drugs through inhalation; ingestion; mucous membrane contact via the nose, eyes and mouth; skin contact; and needlestick. Piersol explains that he fell ill, in part, because his respirator got hung up on his camera mount and did not seal properly.

“Exposures could result in lightheadedness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and the rapid onset of life-threatening respiratory depression, a slow and shallow breathing, often creating the need for medical attention and preventing emergency responders from performing their duties as needed,” NIOSH states in a March 28 press release.

Along with immediately donning gloves and respirators after identifying a powdery substance, the officers were credited with taking critical safety measures such as staging emergency medical services and hazmat responders outside the hotel, assessing the amount of naloxone available, and undergoing training on when and how to administer naloxone.


Emergency responders “can benefit from increased education and guidance on how to protect themselves,” NIOSH states in the release.

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