First responders guard against exposure to deadly opioids

First responders guard against exposure to deadly opioids
Updated: Sep. 20, 2017 at 7:36 PM CDT
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ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LA (WVUE) - They are first responders who go in to save lives, but they could also be the first ones exposed to deadly opioids. Trace amounts could be deadly, and the problem isn't going away.

Last year in St. Tammany, 47 people died from opioid overdoses. It's now considered an epidemic.

"We go on a kitchen fire of the person maybe making meth in the house," said St. Tammany Fire District 1 Chief David Kuhn.

The DEA is now warning first responders of potential exposure to opioids that are 100 times more potent than morphine.

"It could be several times a week," said Kuhn.

First responders have full body suits to go into situations where they know they might be exposed, because it doesn't take much to put them at risk.

"Just the powder getting in the air can kill you," said Kuhn.

Ninety percent of all high schools now have Narcan on campus to deal with opioid overdose cases, but the problem doesn't stop there.

"A week ago, 29 packets of fentanyl were found in an elementary school in Philadelphia," said first responder trainer Jake Kelton.

In Slidell, the goal is to limit exposure and save lives - not just of abusers, but of first responders like policeman, fireman, nurses or even funeral directors who may inadvertently come in contact.

"How about I overdose and die, and I get shipped to a funeral director? He disrobes the body and now he's exposed," said Kelton.

For first responders, the crisis isn't going away and they continue to be at risk. Trainers say it only takes two grains of the drug to potentially kill someone.
Firefighters are urged to wash their clothes at the station house, but residue on shoes may also pose a lethal problem.

"You walk into your home and an infant crawling could be exposed and the next thing you know they're dead," said Kuhn.

There is also a spray that can encapsulate drugs called BLOK.

"BLOC is used to encapsulate the powder or residue on the person the first responders are trying to save during overdose," according to company spokesman John Kelton in a written statement. "If they do not use BLOC, the powder becomes airborne and inhaled by the first responders or ER staff when they get to the hospital. BLOC contains the powder permanently to prevent any chance of secondary exposure. It is a handheld devise which deploys an encapsulation liquid which contains the opioids on contact. So clothes with opioids are rendered safe. Without a means to contain the lethal opioids, others can and do succumb to overdoses to opioids."

"It's all around us," said Kuhn.

So far, Slidell fire officials are not aware of any local first responders who have inadvertently overdosed on drugs found on a crime scene. But it has happened elsewhere. And with training, they hope to keep first responders safe during this epidemic. 

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