Federal law enforcement agencies are letting police officers know that they’re not going to die from just touching fentanyl — in a stark reversal from their positions only a year ago. The Department of Justice unveiled a dramatic video, produced in part by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in a press conference Thursday to get the message across. The footage depicts police officers racing across a town to arrest a drug dealer, entering his hotel room, and then encountering a white powder.
“I got this on my hands!” an officer says to his partner in the new video, before he falls to the ground. “Hey, man, what’s going on?” his fellow officer asks. “Wash your hands, you’ll be OK!” she adds, helpfully. “You think?” “Yes!” she assures.
“One myth is that just touching any amount of fentanyl is likely to cause severe illness or injury, or even death, and that’s just not true,” David Tarantino, a senior medical adviser with Customs and Border Protection, says in the video. He adds that in most instances, police can just wear gloves or wash their hands.
Last year, an Ohio police officer made national headlines after he said he nearly died from touching the drug with his bare hands. At the time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on its fentanyl information page that skin absorption could be deadly. After the officer’s story went viral, the CDC reversed that position and removed the statement from its website.
Even so, a Texas deputy was sent to the hospital in June after touching a piece of fentanyl-laced paper. Some toxicologists and medical professionals, however, have repeatedly stressed that accidentally touching the drug won’t lead to an overdose.
This isn’t the first time law enforcement agencies have tried to dispel that myth. In November, the White House’s National Security Council and other federal agencies, including the DOJ and CPB, released safety recommendations that explained skin contact was “not expected to lead to harmful effects.”
Two years earlier, in 2016, the DEA had warned that skin contact was “one of the biggest dangers with fentanyl.” And in June 2017, the DEA wrote in a guide intended for first responders that “fentanyl can be ingested orally, inhaled through the nose or mouth, or absorbed through the skin or eyes.” Customs and Border Protection, which produced the video, has been a key player in the Trump administration’s efforts to stem fentanyl believed to be coming from Mexico. A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump called opioids from China and Mexico “almost a form of warfare.”
Cover image: Screenshot from "Fentanyl: The Real Deal"