Three Harford County first responders potentially exposed to heroin

Posted at 6:34 PM, May 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 18:34:09-04

Three emergency personnel were potentially exposed to heroin in Harford County.

It happened Friday night after first responders were dispatched to a report of an overdose victim in Abingdon.

After arriving on the scene, a Harford County Sheriff's deputy reported feeling ill and dizzy and emergency responders with the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company also exhibited symptoms of an overdose. The deputy was given a 4mg dose of Narcan, the opioid reversing drug, and was taken to a hospital for evaluation. He was later released. The two EMS providers were treated at a nearby hospital then released.

There have been several reports of accidental exposures across the country. Two weeks ago, East Liverpool Police Officer Chris Green responded to a traffic stop. When he returned to the police station, he discovered a white substance on his uniform.

"Just out of instinct, he tried to brush it off - not thinking," said East Liverpool Captain Patrick Wright. "They called an ambulance for him and the ambulance responded for him. They gave him one dose of Narcan here and then transported him to East Liverpool City Hospital, where they gave him three additional doses of Narcan."

Also last year in Hartford, Connecticut, 11 SWAT officers were exposed to heroin.

“The flash bang hit the house, the SWAT team enters and they themselves put the drug into the air, airborne, and was breathing it as they went through,” said Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler.

Last Friday, Sheriff Gahler told ABC2 he was concerned about his deputies being exposed to powerful opioids after carfentanil was linked to an overdose death in the county. Hours later, his fear came true when the deputy experienced overdose symptoms.

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“Now breathing is a threat to your life when you're dealing with some of these scenes. It could be a car stop, it could be inside your house, an addict that's residing there, it could be almost anywhere,” said Sheriff Gahler.

Preliminary tests showed that the deputy and two EMS providers may have been exposed to heroin mixed with fentanyl. Sheriff Gahler said he didn’t know how the drugs entered their systems.

“No idea if it was through the skin or inhaled,” said Gahler.

Due to the increased risk of exposure, Sheriff Gahler put an end to drug field testing. Officers also wear protective gloves, carry even stronger Narcan, and use extra caution, but it's not proving to be enough for these powerful new substances.

“[Drug dealers] might as well be an active shooter taking the firearm and just going through and randomly shooting people because that's what they're doing dealing what they're dealing,” said Sheriff Gahler.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office plans to meet with emergency services on Wednesday to review their protocols and equipment.

The local hospitals have also supplied the Sheriff's Office with face masks, but it’s unclear whether they will adequately protect an officer if a substance is airborne.

While the Sheriff did not disclose whether anyone was arrested on Friday, he did say his office would be considering additional charges for endangering emergency personnel.