Drug agents carry opioid antidote for themselves

Members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force have begun carrying a drug to protect themselves if they accidentally ingest a potent opioid.

The drug naloxone, more commonly known by its brand name Narcan, has been credited with saving the lives of countless heroin overdose victims. Now law enforcement agents conducting search warrants and making arrests are carrying it for their own safety.

The worry stems from the spread of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin that can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Fentanyl has been partially blamed for increases in overdose deaths throughout the Northeast and Midwest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says deaths from synthetic opioids, most of them fentanyl, increased by 72 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Drug dealers typically add fentanyl to heroin and other drugs, making it hard for those exposed to it to be aware of its presence or how much they may be consuming. A few grains are all it takes to kill someone.

The area drug task force is one of a growing number of law enforcement agencies that have trained their members in how to administer Narcan for their own use after hearing reports of police in other jurisdictions inadvertently exposed to fentanyl.

In Hartford, Connecticut, 11 SWAT officers were rushed to the hospital with fentanyl poisoning after a stun device they tossed into a suspected drug lair released fentanyl into the air.

A pair of detectives around Atlantic City, New Jersey, were hospitalized when some fentayl escaped from a plastic bag of heroin and cocaine during a field test.

In Florida, a drug sniffing police dog was rushed to an animal hospital after he and two other two dogs overdosed while working their way through a suspected drug house.

Virginia State Police special agent Jay Perry, coordinator of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force, said the task force leadership decided in October to outfit agents with Narcan. After completing training in November, the agents recently received two doses of Narcan to carry with them in their first aid kits.

“As a task force, we’re carrying it as a precautionary measure because agents just don’t know what we’re dealing with anymore,” Perry said.

The Narcan carried by the drug task force members comes in the form of a nasal spray, although it is also available as an auto-injector similar to an EpiPen.

Perry said agents can also administer the drug to overdose victims they encounter, although in most cases the task force members arrive on the scene after the victim has been treated by EMTs and taken to the hospital.

“It’s mostly for our own use, but that’s not to say if they came upon a victim, they wouldn’t be able to utilize it,” Perry said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com.