Harford County Sheriff's Office works to protect deputies from accidental drug exposure

Supplying deputies with new gloves and face masks
Posted at 6:34 PM, May 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-24 18:34:23-04

Law enforcement agencies around the country are implementing new safety procedures after several officers were accidentally exposed to heroin and dangerous opioids while on the job.

On Friday, it happened to a sheriff's deputy and two emergency responders in Harford County.

RELATED: Three Harford County first responders potentially exposed to heroin

Inhaling or touching just a small amount of fentanyl or carfentanil can kill you, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Fortunately, the three local responders who somehow came in contact with heroin and fentanyl are okay, but the incident is prompting new changes in protocol.

“They passed the baggie to get it to the deputy but they could've disturbed a small amount of powder on the outside of the bag or near the zip part of the bag and they didn't even realize it. They're exposed and don’t even know it until they feel those effects,” said Rich Gardiner, spokesperson for the Harford County Fire & EMS Association.

On Wednesday, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office met with county emergency services to review safety training and equipment. The Harford County Sheriff's Office is working to immediately address two vulnerabilities - skin contact and accidental inhalation.

Major John Simpson oversees training and policies at the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. He told ABC2 on Wednesday that the department is working to acquire new gloves and face masks by the weekend.

The gloves will be non-latex to avoid any allergic reactions. They are also working to acquire gloves that cover the arm from the fingertip to the shoulder. And the face masks they’ll be supplying are similar to ones in hospital settings. They were given a 95 rating, meaning they filter out 95 percent of air particles. Major Simpson said a higher rating would require additional training and fit testing.

Even with the immediate changes, there's still some risk of exposure.

“You expect to be okay, and its instances like Friday night, you're not okay,” Gardiner said.

Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler expressed concerns about the men and women who are accidentally exposed in the field.

“It's a fear, I don't want my men and women running the risk of becoming addicted because of an accidental exposure,” said Gahler.

Rob Kinneberg, the director of Phoenix Recovery Center, said that’s unlikely.

“The disease of addiction is not the disease of using, it's the disease of behavior. You develop a set of behavior patterns and you would need to be exposed or use on a consistent basis to become addicted to it,” Kinneberg said.

However, Kinneberg said it's hard to predict what could happen if someone is predisposed to addiction.

“If you have a predisposition to addiction, either yourself or in your family, the euphoric effects of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil or any combination of the same can be incredibly inviting,” he added.

Major Simpson called the situation a game-changer and added that the department will routinely evaluate their protocols and make changes when necessary.

Deputies are also encouraged to call in hazmat teams, whenever necessary. And the Sheriff’s Office has been in contact with other law enforcement agencies facing this new challenge, including one in Ohio where an officer overdosed two weeks ago after using his hand to brush a powdery substance off his shirt.