FL: Can first responders exposed to fentanyl accidentally overdose? Doctors and deputies disagree

Topic of accidental fentanyl overdose sparks debate between medical community, law enforcement

Video of a Flagler County sheriff’s deputy in medical distress after handling the deadly street drug fentanyl is reigniting a big debate.

Can someone accidentally overdose by coming in contact with the synthetic opioid?

CDC data shows more than 72,000 Americans died of overdoses involving fentanyl in 2022. This makes up 68% of all overdose deaths reported that year across the United States.

However, many in the medical community and law enforcement are split on if first responders are in danger by exposure alone.

Deputies in distress

On Friday, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office released body camera footage of a deputy in distress.

“I just got really lightheaded,” said FCSO Deputy Nick Huzior, as he was walking to a fellow deputy’s patrol car on a hot Thursday afternoon. “Call EMS.”

Deputy First Class Kyle Gaddie, who was also working the traffic stop, gave his colleague overdose-reversing Narcan (generically known as naloxone) treatments.

Thinking that the narcotics Huzior had been testing could contain fentanyl, Gaddie quickly gave him a precautionary dose of Narcan. When Huzior didn’t get better after several minutes, Gaddie gave him a second dose of Narcan.

“My heart is beating crazy,” Huzier said as Gaddie told him to keep breathing. “My hands are really shaky.”

The entire encounter was captured on Huzior’s body cam, giving an unnerving personal perspective on the life-threatening incident.

“What happened yesterday is a perfect example of the dangers law enforcement face each and every day from poison on the streets,” Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said in an emailed statement. “Thankfully our deputies are well trained and equipped with Narcan which allowed DFC Gaddie to potentially save the life of a fellow deputy.”

Huzior was then taken by Flagler County Fire Rescue to Advent Health Palm Coast and was treated in the ER and later released. A spokesperson said he is back on duty, noting he helped an overdose patient within hours of starting his shift.

We’ve seen this scenario before.

Body camera video from December 2022 shows an officer in Tavares, Florida, after she believed she was exposed to the powerful narcotic.

“She’s not breathing, hit her again,” another officer said in the video, as a colleague gave her another dose of the spray.

She later spoke to WJXT’s sister station WKMG about the scary incident.

“I’m very mindful if I don’t touch my face if I have gloves on,” said Officer Courtney Bannick. “But did I wipe my nose with my wrist? I don’t know.”

There’s also a video from July 2021 when a San Diego County sheriff’s deputy fell over during a traffic stop. The sheriff said at the time he accidentally overdosed on fentanyl.

Medical community pushback

While there’s no debate that fentanyl is a dangerous and deadly drug on the street, there is a lot of debate over whether a first responder can actually overdose from exposure.

“This is a problem for people who are using drugs, it’s not a problem for bystanders,” said Ryan Marino, M.D. “It’s not something that can just get into your system without you knowing it.”

Dr. Marino is an emergency physician, a medical toxicologist and an addiction specialist with Case Western University in Ohio. He’s also an outspoken critic of law enforcement agencies sharing what he calls false information about the drug and accidental exposure.

“Obviously, this is a problem just because it’s not true,” Marino told News4JAX in a Zoom interview Wednesday. “And people are having severe reactions because of this belief. But I’ve also seen kind of the downstream effects where this leads to increased stigma and increased biases. And even for people who are experiencing actual overdoses, people are too scared to get near them and will not resuscitate them in time.”

He said the incident last week in Flagler County did not appear to be caused by fentanyl exposure.

“I want to say that I’m not disbelieving the symptoms. I believe that this deputy experienced real symptoms and had a real medical emergency,” he said. “So for him to talk through the whole thing. He’s not having a depressed level of consciousness and he’s not having any breathing issues. The symptoms he does report like his heart racing, feeling very stressed and panicked. Feeling tingling and numbness in his arms and legs. Those are not consistent with fentanyl.”

Many commenters called the video “copaganda,” claiming agencies across the U.S. are exaggerating dangers from skin contact exposure.

Agencies respond

The I-TEAM took the concerns to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.

“The substance he was exposed to field tested positive for fentanyl,” public information officer Ava Hanner wrote in an email. “However, we do not have a full analysis of all possible narcotics he was exposed to during the search. To speculate without having the toxicology and medical report would not be prudent for our agency or anyone to comment.”

The I-TEAM checked nationally and information on accidental exposure from law enforcement and health agencies is not consistent.

Currently, both the CDC and DEA encourage extreme caution around fentanyl, recommending first responders wear gloves, masks and wash their hands thoroughly.

However, a 2018 report from the Department of Justice concluded: “Most daily encounters that involve fentanyl do not present significant health threats when first responders take appropriate protective actions.”

“There’s never been an accidental exposure overdose, all of these stories have ended up being disproven,” Marino added. “And so, for politicians to be focusing resources on things like first responder exposures, and things that are scientifically impossible and have never happened, that is a big problem for me, because this means that Americans are dying instead.”

It’s important to note that Narcan is not harmful if given to someone who isn’t actually overdosing.

For perspective, the I-TEAM checked with Jacksonville Fire and Rescue, the largest rescue agency in North Florida. Dispatch records show JFRD crews respond to around 400 overdose calls every month.

They administer around the same number of Narcan doses. With an average of five firefighters at each call, that’s 2,000 potential exposures each month.

Captain Eric Prosswimmer, who serves as the public information officer for the agency, said he’s not aware of any problems where a JFRD rescuer accidentally overdosed. However, the department mandates they wear gloves.

Article Link


National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators Federal Tax ID: 52-1660752 / DUNS Number: 073539913

Copyright © 2024 - NADDI. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy / Trademark Policy / Copyright Policy / Refund Policy

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account