By: April Carson
Last week, a Florida police officer on duty discovered what she thought to be fentanyl during an ordinary traffic stop and soon after was seen writhing in pain while lying down. Quickly, one of her fellow officers administered medicine used for opioid intoxication and paramedics rushed over with haste - taking the ill officer to the nearby hospital where she eventually recovered.
The incident quickly spread all over the media, with headlines referencing police officers being exposed to fentanyl.
This is yet another instance in which first responders thought they had overdosed on fentanyl after limited contact with the drug. Unfortunately, when these occurrences come to light, media outlets often take it a step further and circulate stories that affirm how close police personnel were from succumbing to death due to their fleeting exposure of this powerful opioid.
In this situation, Fox News alerted viewers with an astute and cautionary chyron: "FLORIDA OFFICER COLLAPSES AFTER FENTANYL EXPOSURE". Similarly, the New York Post warned readers of a critical article detailing that a Florida officer had "OD'd after fentanyl exposure 'couldn't breathe'".
However, some medical professionals appear to dispute these stories and their allegations that officers are constantly in peril of overdosing on fentanyl due to "just a touch".
Unfortunately, without taking into account carefully evaluating the reports, news organizations are propagating a negative association of the drug and thus causing harm to those seeking help as well as furthering anxiety in first responders. This creates an unfortunate cycle that needs to be broken immediately.
Rather than fear-mongering about fentanyl, it is important for us to recognize that the medication can provide relief to those suffering from chronic pain and other debilitating conditions. While its potency should be respected, it should not be stigmatized in such a way that would prevent people from seeking out necessary medical care.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and CNN medical analyst shared this warning: "It's highly unlikely for law enforcement personnel or other responders to suffer from opioid overdose due to brief contact with individuals who have used the drug."
Furthermore, a recent report from the Drug Enforcement Administration cautioned that although fentanyl is dangerous and poses a risk of death for users, it would take "extremely unusual circumstances" for someone to be exposed to enough fentanyl to cause an overdose.
Wen elucidated that, barring any bioterrorism occasions, opioids will not be readily absorbed through the skin; they are also incapable of being aerosolized and inhaled through the air.
A comprehensive study published in 2021 by the International Journal of Drug Policy uncovered that the accounts shared by first responders who claim to have had a fentanyl overdose typically coincide with symptoms of panic or anxiety attacks, rather than those seen in opioid overdoses. This information reinforces data which suggests that these individuals are unlikely to have suffered from this type of incident. Importantly, it was determined that there have been no confirmed incidents of an officer suffering from a fentanyl overdose after coming into contact with the substance.
What this research has shown is that the fear of fentanyl, while understandable given its potency, may be misplaced. Although further research is needed to definitively answer questions about the potential for officer injury, it seems clear that media outlets are overstating the dangers of exposure to the drug.
When Florida media outlets tried to investigate the claim of an officer overdosing, and even provided evidence backing up their inquiry, they were met with refusal from law enforcement. The department refused to share any documents or proof related to said case until it was closed - this includes the medical records for that individual officer.
Despite being concealed from the public, Wen proposed that it is improbable fentanyl was responsible for these events. He argued that the “half-life” of fentanyl is too short to cause any damage and that it cannot be absorbed through skin contact.
Rather, Wen claims that medical professionals are more likely to attribute similar symptoms to other factors such as sleep deprivation or dehydration.
Dr. Wen stated that reports of first responders who sought medical care following exposure generally did not find opioids in their systems, but rather symptoms consistent with panic attacks such as shortness of breath manifesting as gasping for breath instead of unconsciousness resulting from opioid overdose which suppresses respiration.
Although stories that propagate this narrative may appear innocuous, their implications may be far-reaching and dire.
“We must be careful about making unsubstantiated claims of first responders overdosing through brief, accidental exposure in the media," Dr. Wen warned me. "These allegations could falsely dissuade people from helping those who desperately need it."
Dr. Wen’s warning serves as a reminder of the importance of fact checking and being mindful of the implications our words may have, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like drug-related deaths. By understanding the real truth behind these stories, we can ensure that false information does not cause more harm than good.
Billy Carson & Ron Taylor "Meet the Snows"
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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