Fentanyl street drugs are now a real medical threat to U.S. cops, as ever-more powerful illegal forms of the opioid — 50 times more powerful than heroin — spread throughout the country, killing thousands, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Federal data showed that law enforcement had documented more than 14,000 encounters with fentanyl in 2015, dramatically up from 1,000 in 2013, said the Journal, and noting the illegal forms of the drugs are being produced in China and Mexico over the past five years and are hitting the in the United States.
"(Fentanyl) is a new challenge, a game changer for law enforcement," Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler told the Journal. One of his command officers had to be rushed to the hospital in Maryland after being exposed by just opening a nightstand. "It could be anyone exposed."
In June, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a video and press release warning law enforcement about the dangers of being exposed to fentanyl.
"Fentanyl is deadly," DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement. "Exposure to an amount equivalent to a few grains of sand can kill you. You can be in grave danger even if you unintentionally come into contact with fentanyl."
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in the DEA statement that law enforcement must take extreme care in looking for such drugs because of their lethal effects.
"The opioid epidemic nationwide has caused havoc and heartbreak for our children, friends and neighbors," Rosenstein said in the statement. "Any fentanyl exposure can kill innocent law enforcement, first responders and the public. As we continue to fight this epidemic, it is critical that we provide every tool necessary to educate the public and law enforcement about the dangers of fentanyl and its deadly consequences."
Harford County sheriff’s deputy Kevin Phillips told the Journal it took only two to three seconds after opening a nightstand in a search for heroin when his face started burning. He had to be rushed to a hospital.
In the DEA video an Atlantic City detective talked about the critical situation he faced after being exposed to a small amount of fentanyl.
"I thought I was dying," the detective said, per the DEA video. "It felt like my body was shutting down."
Two to three milligrams of fentanyl is enough to cause respiratory depression, cardiac arrest, and death, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.
The drug has forced law enforcement and first responders to issue new guidelines and wearing of safety gear in dealing with possible heroin incidents, the Journal noted.
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