The opioid crisis is better understood as a fentanyl crisis with real dangers to emergency responders, according to an expert-panel presentation convened in Las Vegas at EMS World Expo 2017.
The panel discussion, sponsored by Bound Tree Medical, included a Drug Enforcement Administration chemist and an EMS medical director, and focused on the risks of fentanyl exposure and contamination to EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and police officers.
Reducing First Responder Fentanyl Exposure
The top concern of the panelists was the availability of and proper use of personal protective equipment to protect emergency responders from exposure to fentanyl. Their top personal protective equipment recommendations were:
- Dust mask to protect against aerosolized fentanyl inhalation.
- Nitrile, single-use examination gloves to protect against skin exposure and transdermal transmission.
- Safety glasses are additional protection from mucosal membrane absorption.
- Immediate washing with soap and water of any exposed or contaminated skin.
- Remove and clean any uniform clothing that might have been contaminated by fentanyl, blood or other potentially infectious material during patient assessment and care.
The expert panel was convened in the wake of increasing reports of emergency responders, including police officers, paramedics and correctional officers being sickened after assessing and treating opioid overdose patients. In addition, the panel sought to bring the best available guidance from the InterAgency Board, CDC, NIOSH and DEA on how to safely handle patients, avoid fentanyl exposure and manage a crime scene that may also be a hazmat incident.
A toxicologist recommended (to me) you treat these drugs like they are blood. If you see a big pile of something that looks like white powder, don’t go splashing around in it,” said Dan Swayze, Public Health PhD, MBA
The consequences of the opioid epidemic put emergency responders at risk of injury and illness. A free course featuring a panel of EMS and law enforcement experts explains the actual versus perceived risks of opioid exposures, how to recognize a scene contaminated by fentanyl and describes best practices for protections.