SIDNEY — The epidemic of rampant opioid abuse in Ohio, especially in light of the high potency of street drugs, has raised the stakes for the importance of self-protection for Shelby County law enforcement officers/first responders.
Last month after responding to a traffic stop that involved a driver/car covered in white powder, East Liverpool Police Officer Chris Green merely brushed an unknown substance off his uniform, without thinking. Reportedly within minutes, he dropped to the ground and suffered an accidental fentanyl overdose.
Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the opioid, fentanyl, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and the opioid, carfentanyl, is 10,000 times stronger than morphine.
In the last year alone, drug activity has sharply risen in Sidney. In the first five months of this year, Sidney’s first responders administered 178 doses of naloxone compared to a total of 171 doses administered in all of 2016 in Sidney.
Sidney Police Chief Will Balling told the Sidney Daily News they haven’t seen heroin in Sidney for at least nine months; they are currently dealing with fentanyl. He said it is cheaper and much more potent. Balling said fentanyl is about 10 times stronger than heroin and carfentanyl is about 100 times stronger heroin.
When searching suspects and their property, Balling said officers encounter a great danger regarding needles and the chance of coming into contact with unknown substances that could cause an overdose by touch.
He said it always has been considered among an officer’s best practices to use disposable latex gloves when searching people, but now that heroin has come to Sidney, its standard procedure to use gloves every single time. Also, if searching a home or area which could cause exposure from stirring up a drug like carfentanyl in the air, they wear masks to avoid inhalation.
“Even if the chances are one in 100, you don’t want to be that 100th officer who gets it,” Balling said of taking the extra safety measures.
Balling said police supervisors and investigating units conducting search warrants carry naloxone, also known as Narcan, which is an opioid antidote. The drug is kept on hand to reverse the lethal effects in case one of his officers or K-9 officers accidentally overdose.
“We have naloxone that can be used on our K-9s. If the drug dog is searching, it’s smelling. If it’s smelling, it’s inhaling. It it’s inhaling, it can actually (overdose) — if there is carfentanyl — there’s been cases where K-9s have overdosed. And, A, it’s part of our family here at the police department, but it’s also an expensive part of our family,” Balling said. “It’s something you don’t think about until it happens, so we are trying to prepare. If you can predict something, you can prevent it.”
Sidney Fire Chief Brad Jones said, “We have ingrained in our heads for bio-hazard exposure from blood … so the thought process is we are super conscious of our latex and rubber gloves that we wear and our personal protection equipment (PPE).”
The firefighters’ PPE, which includes masks and goggles is mandatory based on the severity of the call. Jones said from the fire side, they have a lower risk for exposure because they are not handling evidence. He said the potential for exposure is still there but firefighters/EMTs have already been extremely mindful for at least the last 15 to 20 of dealing with bio-hazards.
Shelby County County Sheriff John Lenhart said the Sheriff’s Office is approaching the issue in various ways. He noted it is a very dangerous time for law enforcement officers working on the front lines. He said being constantly alert and vigilant is key.
Lenhart said Shelby County deputies wear body cameras that record all interactions. He said this often helps to diffuse tense situations. He also reiterated the extreme potency of fentanyl and carfentanyl, which can float in the air as microscopic flakes, so deputies use gloves, and masks. Deputies do not to open confiscated baggies of unknown substances; they send it to the lab for examination. However, in the event of an accidental overdose, Deputies have started carrying Narcan.
Constant training of what other agencies are doing and have seen is also apart of the Sheriff’s Office’s preparation, Lenhart said. One of the things the Sheriff’s Office will soon be doing to prevent drugs from entering the jails will be with the use of a scanner recently ordered. This scanner will be able to see foreign objects within the body cavity of a person coming into the jail.
Prevention, the sheriff said is very important. He said programs with officers in the schools and with DARE is a way to bridge the gap between law enforcement officers and the community.
Lenhart said his goal is to “bridge that gap. One day at a time; one kid at a time.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.