Fentanyl contact by 2 Edmonton police officers exposes dangers of deadly drug

File: Manitoba RCMP process packages of fentanyl. Manitoba RCMP / File

The fentanyl crisis in Alberta shows no signs of abating and recently, two members of the Edmonton Police Service were exposed to the potentially deadly drug.

The first fentanyl exposure happened to a member of the EPS Tactical Section. Det. Guy Pilon with the Edmonton Drug and Gang Enforcement Unit (EDGE) said the officer was assisting with a search warrant when he came into contact with prepackaged powders that tested positive for fentanyl.

READ MORE: RCMP officers tell their story of being exposed to fentanyl

In the second incident, police were responding to a drug overdose call when an officer was given a baggy with a “miniscule amount of powder” in it that was believed to be fentanyl.

In both cases, the officers were examined by medical staff and found to be unharmed. Pilon said an EMS member was also checked out in the second incident.

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Fentanyl is a powerful opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug was responsible for more than 240 deaths in Alberta in the first six months of this year alone.

READ MORE: Hazmat cleaning crew offers glimpse inside former fentanyl lab in Sturgeon County

The EPS said it is confident it has the appropriate policies and procedures in place to protect its members. When police are called to a situation where they know drugs will be present, they prepare themselves with protective equipment.

“We’ll wear protective clothing, we’ll wear respirators, we’ll wear rubber gloves, we’ll make sure our eyes and any exposed skin is covered,” Pilon explained.

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READ MORE: Ohio cop accidentally overdoses on fentanyl after drug traffic stop

However, it’s when they don’t expect fentanyl to be present that the dangers really present themselves.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the situations that police get called to don’t always play out as they originate. They may be going into a family fight and not have any of that equipment on and come across it,” Pilon said.

“That’s always the greater risk. If you know it’s there you can dress appropriately and take all the precautions. If you don’t know it’s there it presents a greater risk to the police, and not only the police — EMS and fire who may attend the scene.”

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READ MORE: Alberta gives firefighters access to naloxone kits as fentanyl overdose deaths rise

Pilon said fentanyl is finding its way into other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, on a fairly regular basis. Whenever police are dealing with unknown drugs, they prepare for it as though it’s fentanyl, but there are still risks.

“That presents a huge problem because of the strength and potency and the unknown concentration of fentanyl in any of these powders.”

Pilon said some police vehicles are equipped with naloxone, which temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose of fentanyl or other opioids, allowing the victim time to get emergency medical help. Within the last year or so, every police vehicle in Edmonton was also equipped with an Ambu bag, Pilon said, which is a manual resuscitator used for ventilation.

“When somebody suffers an overdose of fentanyl, their breathing reflex stops, so they stop breathing,” Pilon said. “So by placing this Ambu bagger over their face and mouth and squeezing that bag, they’re ventilating, which is enough to keep them breathing until the arrival of EMS.”

Earlier this month, Edmonton police laid charges in what they called the largest-ever fentanyl pill seizure in Canada. The charges came after 67,000 fentanyl pills with a street value of $2 million were seized from an Edmonton property in July.

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Watch below: A look inside a Sturgeon County home that once housed a fentanyl lab

Click to play video: 'A look inside Sturgeon County home that once housed a fentanyl lab'
A look inside Sturgeon County home that once housed a fentanyl lab

On Wednesday, police in Calgary will release the details of one of the province’s largest-ever drug seizures, after more than $4 million worth of fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine was seized by the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams.

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