The myth that accidental exposure to fentanyl is fatal refuses to die

For nearly a decade, a persistent myth has influenced public perception and news coverage of the opioid overdose crisis: the idea that you can get sick or even die simply by touching or being around fentanyl. But there’s no strong evidence for this claim, and there’s much to argue against it.

Scroll through the headlines related to fentanyl, especially those related to law enforcement, and you’ll see Sample emerge soon SufficientFirst responders, police officers, or bystanders experience a variety of symptoms immediately after coming into contact with small amounts of fentanyl.

A thought that will never end

with stories like these Specific Claim The statement by some law enforcement officials that “just touching fentanyl can kill you” first became widely spread 2016The idea gained further legitimacy that year when the Drug Enforcement Agency released a video, as well as a press release, warning about the dangers of fentanyl exposure through the skin (both of which were likely misunderstood). Temporarily removedBut Updates Editions (still present today).

media outlets now seem to less likely repeating the idea uncritically that exposure to fentanyl can be deadly, as much as they did five years agoWhen Gizmodo first covered the issue. Person Public health agencies And Other groups People have also started openly opposing this belief. But the myth is still alive and strong among the people Some law enforcement agencies and even lawmakersAt least three states — Florida, West Virginia, Tennessee — are currently considering bills that would allow prosecutors to bring felony charges against people accused of being exposed to fentanyl and similar opioids.

‘Extremely low risk’ to first responders

It is understandable why people are afraid to get close to fentanyl. It and other synthetic opioids such as carfentanil are actually more potent than naturally derived opioids such as heroin or morphine. So the risk of a fatal overdose is likely to be higher than normal consumption. Over the past decade, the greater availability and use (often unknowingly) of illicit fentanyl has led to a large increase in deaths, with 2023 seeing the highest number of deaths. for the third consecutive year More than 100,000 fatal overdoses have been reported in the United States.

But based on what we know about these drugs, there doesn’t appear to be any serious danger from touching or being around fentanyl. According to expert toxicologists, even in powder form, the drug is not absorbed quickly through the skin. Medical fentanyl can be given via dermal patches, but these doses are absorbed slowly over hours to days.

In 2017, the American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT) released a joint report. position statement To combat the growing spread of misinformation related to fentanyl. Based on their assessment of the available evidence, the groups concluded that “the risk of clinically significant exposure to emergency responders is extremely low.”

There are a few possible scenarios in which fentanyl could be dangerous to passersby. For example, if someone touched fentanyl powder and then tried to wash it off with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, the alcohol could actually increase the skin’s ability to absorb the drug. Accidental ingestion of fentanyl into the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth, such as by touching it and then touching your eyes, could potentially cause illness. And it’s theoretically possible for enough fentanyl powder to turn into an aerosol and be inhaled in the same area to pose a danger. However, this would require unusual circumstances, such as being in a very ventilated room where a significant amount of fentanyl is present.

Smart Precautions

ACMT, AACT and other groups have created practical guidelines for first responders exposed to fentanyl to further reduce their risk. These include wearing disposable non-latex gloves for low-risk situations and a mask for higher-risk environments, as well as advising people to use only soap and water to wash off any fentanyl that gets on their skin.

This doesn’t mean that law enforcement officers and others exposed to fentanyl aren’t experiencing symptoms as a result. But many of the symptoms commonly reported during these accounts, such as fast heartbeat, DizzinessOr to sweatNo match them Common symptoms of opioid overdose include delayed breathing, bluish skin and constricted pupils. So at least in some cases, these cases are more likely to be expressions of (understandable) anxiety or fear Fentanyl-related,

Despite growing skepticism from the media and health agencies, the myth that accidental fentanyl exposure is fatal persists among some law enforcement and lawmakers, with several states considering related felony charges. But it’s a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t really exist. And this myth only distracts attention from the real dangers of fentanyl, while taking time and energy from efforts needed to reduce America’s very real overdose crisis.


Disclaimer : The content in this article is for educational and informational purposes only.

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