In Cook County so far this year 167 people have died from fentanyl-related deaths-many more than have been killed in traffic accidents in metro Chicago.
Federal authorities want to make sure that law enforcement officers don't inadvertently become part of that death toll and next week will announce a new offensive to warn of the dangers of fentanyl.
On Tuesday morning in Washington, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg will discuss the dangers law enforcement and first responders face when encountering fentanyl, unveiling a new video to be played at police roll calls across the U.S.
The current law enforcement video, featuring former DEA Chicago chief Jack Riley and obtained by the I-Team, already presents a stern warning to officers. The video features police officers who have unknowingly suffered from fentanyl exposure while investigating drug cases, raiding illicit labs and arrested fentanyl offenders.
Last year in the U.S. deaths from fentanyl-related drugs and synthetic opioids reached 9,580-a spike of 73 percent compared to the previous year.
"Fentanyl can kill you," Riley said in the video distributed to police departments nationwide. "Fentanyl is being sold as heroin in virtually every corner of our country. It's produced clandestinely in Mexico, and (also) comes directly from China. A very small amount ingested, or absorbed through your skin, can kill you."
Riley recently retired from the DEA and it is believed he will be replaced by a current agency official on the new video to be released next week.
In May a police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio collapsed and was rushed to the hospital after he brushed fentanyl residue off his uniform, allowing the drug to enter his system through his hands. The officer had apparently encountered the drug earlier in the day during a traffic stop.
"This is scary. He could have walked out of the building and left and he could have passed out while he was driving. You don't even know it's there on his clothes," East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane said. "His wife, kids and his dog could be confronted with it and boom, they're dead. This could never end" Lane said.
Legitimately manufactured Fentanyl is a painkiller up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Illicit, street-sold Fentanyl is more dangerous and frequently mixed with heroin. A few granules can kill you.
In early May the I-Team received prescription Fentanyl patches in the mail, sent anonymously by someone who said that they were being abused at a west suburban nursing home.
Two Atlantic County, New Jersey detectives were recently exposed to a very small amount of fentanyl, and they appear on the DEA video. "I thought that was it. I thought I was dying" said one detective. "It felt like my body was shutting down."
Riley also admonished police to skip testing on the scene. He encouraged officers to also be mindful of the potential harm to police canines during investigations. "Don't field test it in your car, or on the street, or take if back to the office. Transport it directly to a laboratory, where it can be safely handled and tested."
The effect of fentanyl on police dogs concerns Sgt. Dennis Wade of the Indiana State Police.
"We have to be on heightened sense of awareness of what the substances are in these cars," says Wade who reminds officers to "make sure that they are using very much care with gloves and not to expose themselves or their dogs"
Indiana state police say they have not had any of their K9s overdose yet but Wade says there have been a few close calls.
"On I-70 our state police interdiction team seized several kilos of pure fentanyl...extremely dangerous to the lab personnel - the officers on scene as well as the dog."
Troopers are also trained to check their partners for potential overdose symptoms.
"They would show signs of impairment just like humans do. Impairment-stumbling...a lot like humans would" says Wade.
As high as the fentanyl death figures are so far this year, when you add in the numbers from fentanyl-laced heroin they are even higher...about the same as the number of gun murders in the U.S. last year.
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