- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2016

Having long sought to warn the public about the dangers of fentanyl, the drug that recently killed Prince and has been blamed for hundreds of overdose deaths in recent years, law enforcement officials are targeting education efforts toward a new audience — themselves.

The Drug Enforcement Administration this week rolled out a new public service announcement directed at law enforcement to raise awareness of the danger officers face when they encounter the synthetic opioid in the field.

The video features two New Jersey police officers who accidentally inhaled powder fentanyl while collecting the drug as evidence, and the DEA warns officers to take extra precautions if they come in contact with the drug, which is said to be 50 times more powerful than heroin. In the video, a detective describes trying to seal a plastic bag that contained the drug and some of the powdery substance going airborne.

“A bunch of it poofed up into the air, right in our face, and we ended up inhaling it,” said one of the detectives.

“I felt like my body was shutting down,” said the other detective, describing effects of the drug that made him feel like he was dying.

More than 700 deaths related to fentanyl use were reported to the DEA in 2013 and 2014, with seizures of the drug skyrocketing over that time as well.

The DEA’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System tallied 13,002 reports of fentanyl drug seizures in forensic laboratories in 2015, up from the 7,864 reports made through all of 2014.

“Fentanyl is so dangerous that we have had to instruct our agents that if they touch it or inhale it accidentally, they can die,” DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg told a Senate committee this week. “If they are a canine officer and their dog sniffs it, perhaps because it’s laced in heroin, that dog can die.”

Authorities have trained law enforcement officers how to administer naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose instantly, to one another as well as to civilians they may may encounter who are having an overdose, Mr. Rosenburg said.

In the DEA video, Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley cautions police officers who come in contact with fentanyl not to conduct field tests on the drug.

“If you encounter this during your daily duties, don’t field test it in your car, or on the street, or take if back to the office,” Mr. Riley said. “Transport it directly to a laboratory, where it can be safely handled and tested.”

While fentanyl is a synthetic drug that has legitimate medical uses, authorities say the black market production of the drug is what is driving the deadly overdoses.

The drug is mostly produced in China, but Mexican cartels have gotten involved in distribution, Mr. Rosenberg said. Capitalizing on the drug’s potency, cartels can purchase a kilogram of fentanyl for $5,000 from China and then mix it with heroin or cutting agents to stretch it — enabling cartels to rake it profits of $1.5 million off of the original amount.

To watch the video, click here.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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