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"Police officer overdoses after touching fentanyl"

The Tired Narrative: 

There have been numerous unconfirmed reports of first responders (mainly police officers) "overdosing" at the scenes of drug busts and routine traffic stops. After minor contact with unknown powdered substances, such as brushing some powder off a uniform, the officer exhibits symptoms such as fainting and shortness of breath.


Nearby officers then administer doses of naloxone. "Saved by naloxone," the officer eventually wakes up. 

Other news reports suggest that officers are exposed to illicit fentanyl "dust particles" via inhalation. In a confined room where drugs had been stored, officers report feeling dizzy and disoriented upon entering the room. Reports speculate that illicit fentanyl has become concentrated in the air. Officers are then administered naloxone. 

The Informed Narrative: 

A statement by the American College of Medical Toxicology says that illicit fentanyl is unlikely to cause toxicity via skin exposure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Office of National Drug Control Policy have put out similar statements. 

Reporters must remain skeptical about claims of accidental exposure. Journalists should request toxicology reports of the first responders that documents chemicals in their bloodstream. 

While the experience of first responders matters, what they say happened should not be reported as a fact. 


Several reports claim that police officers and first responders are accidentally exposed to illicit fentanyl (by touching powder) at the scene of drug busts and overdoses. These drugs are not skin-soluble and cannot be absorbed in toxic doses via dermal exposure. If first responders fear "exposure," they might delay rescue breathing and other lifesaving interventions during an overdose. 

Connect with Expert Sources:


Kevin Shanks, toxicologist

Ryan Marino, Emergency Medicine - Case Western Reserve University Medical School