Countering Misinformation About Incidental Fentanyl Exposure

"With the relatively recent surge in fentanyl-related overdoses, a new occupational safety concern has emerged among emergency responders: the fear of overdosing from touching fentanyl [8]. In 2017 alone, over 150 media reports describing first responder exposures to opioids surfaced [9]. Reports of overdose due to fentanyl contact among first responders [10–13] have been repeatedly refuted by medical experts [14–16]. Yet, mixed messages from the US government agencies [17] and their prominence in media outlets have catalyzed the spread of misinformation about the risks of accidental fentanyl contact. The high level of concern about this theoretical threat has been especially stark in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the USA, when police have reportedly expressed comparatively little anxiety about contracting the potentially deadly virus [18].

"There has been an increase in products marketed to address the fear of fentanyl, including fentanyl exposure prevention kits [19, 20], gloves marketed to protect against fentanyl [21], other fentanyl-resistant gear and screening devices [22], and fentanyl clean-ups [23]. Additionally, legislators in the USA have proposed the Providing Officers with Electronic Resources (POWER) Act that would fund state and local enforcement agencies to purchase fentanyl screening devices to protect officers from incidental exposure [24]. However, because these screening procedures require the use of class B hazmat suits [25] and other equipment prior to responding to the overdose, these precautions could potentially delay the time-sensitive, lifesaving administration of naloxone and rescue breathing."


Winograd, R. P., Phillips, S., Wood, C. A., Green, L., Costerison, B., Goulka, J., & Beletsky, L. (2020). Training to reduce emergency responders' perceived overdose risk from contact with fentanyl: early evidence of success. Harm reduction journal, 17(1), 58.