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How Worried Should First Responders Be About Fentanyl Exposure?

Jan 9, 2020 11:00:00 AM posted in Exam Gloves

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that’s taken center stage in the nation’s opioid crisis. According to RAND research, fentanyl-related deaths increased ten-fold between the years 2013 and 2018, from 3,000 to 30,000. When facing such a potent narcotic, many have raised the question of whether first responders are putting their lives and well-being at risk when tending to overdose victims.

So how worried should a first responder be about fentanyl exposure? The answer is “probably not as much as some sources would have you believe.” The American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) and American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT) published a joint statement that the risk of clinically significant exposure to fentanyl for emergency responders is extremely low.  

That doesn’t mean that first responders are working without risk, however. Being first on the scene at an overdose and being tasked with resuscitating the victim means you’re more likely to have involuntary contact with fentanyl. When gauging this risk, it’s important to separate facts from fiction and, in doing so, avoid unnecessary panic. 


How does fentanyl work?

As indicated above, fentanyl blocks pain signals and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It binds to the dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin receptors in the brain to produce euphoria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s 50-to-100 times more potent than heroin. While it takes about 30mg of heroin to kill an average-sized male adult, you only need 3mg of fentanyl for the same result.  


What’s actually happened to first responders?

The increasing numbers of first responders in contact with fentanyl led the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to release a safety video on how to handle exposure to illicit drugs. First responders face a range of risks — from resuscitating overdose victims to entering premises in which fentanyl may be produced.


What are some reasonable precautions?

 The previously referenced statement from the ACMT and AACT suggests following some basic safety guidelines. These include:

  • - Use nitrile gloves and standard duty uniforms. These should provide adequate protection against transdermal contact. If you find a powder on your skin or clothing that may be fentanyl, brush it away and clean the area with soap and water. 
  • - Wear disposable N95 masks when you suspect fentanyl particles may be suspended in the air.
  • - Have Naloxone readily available. They do clarify that all first responders should be trained on how to use and administer it, and only do so to people displaying objective signs of opioid toxicity.   

When you’re working as a first responder and your safety is in question, it pays to err on the side of caution. In the current opioid crisis, Ventyv’s tough gloves lead the charge in personal protection against accidental fentanyl exposure. 

Protect yourself from transdermal contact with our range of Nitrile Powder-Free gloves. Two, in particular, have been specifically fentanyl tested: Nitrile Powder-Free PLUS 5.0 (Bull) and Nitrile Powder-Free PLUS 3.5 (Stallion). Together, through increased education and dependable products, we can change the world for the better. 

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