Amid opioid crisis, first responders take extra precautions when dealing with dangerous substances

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio is recovering this week from a drug overdose.

He searched a car for drugs on Friday, properly protected by gloves and a face mask. But it was Fentanyl powder residue on the officer’s uniform that absorbed through his skin when he tried to brush it off.

An hour later he passed out — a show of just how potent these drugs can be.

“These things are not sold on the streets with the ingredients listed,” said Rob Lawrence, Chief Operating Officer with the Richmond Ambulance Authority. “We have no clue as to what’s in there initially and neither does the user.”

While Richmond police say nothing like this has happened to one of its own officers, local first responders still take precautions.

Lawrence says it starts with first responders being aware of their surroundings when they arrive on scene.

“A key skill, of course, is observation,” said Lawrence. “To make sure that the scene is safe, not only from a protective crew perspective but also what might be laying around on the floor.”

As a baseline, EMTs always cover their hands.

“We use a process called universal precautions,” Lawrence said. “They will always be gloved. If it looks like it’s a white powder incident then we will withdraw and we may well go to a hazmat situation.”

In the event that an EMT is exposed to something dangerous, Richmond Ambulance Authority says it has a thorough occupational health assessment in place to monitor first responders after a dangerous incident.

“Their safety, of course,  is one of our highest priorities,” said Lawrence.

The Ohio officer is doing fine after being revived by Narcan, an opiate-blocker.

Richmond Police tell 8News in 2016 it made several changes to protocol when responding to drug incidents. Now, anytime there is a white powder, the substance goes straight to the lab instead of undergoing a field test.

All officers also carry an opiate-blocker from Richmond-based company, Kaleo.

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