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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Three Spokane officers sent to hospital with possible fentanyl exposure

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 3, 2021

FILE - In this June 6, 2017 file photo, an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington Va. The Justice Department’s inspector general says the Drug Enforcement Administration was “slow to respond” as America grappled with a rising opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)  (Jacquelyn Martin)
FILE - In this June 6, 2017 file photo, an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington Va. The Justice Department’s inspector general says the Drug Enforcement Administration was “slow to respond” as America grappled with a rising opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin)

An officer who handled a substance, suspected to be fentanyl, with latex gloves started struggling to breathe Sunday, and he and two other officers were eventually sent to the hospital, according to a Spokane Police Department news release.

Fentanyl, 100 times more potent than morphine, can be deadly at small doses through inhalation or touch, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Around noon Sunday, officers had responded to a report of a man who’d been slumped over his steering wheel for at least two hours near 400 West Joseph Avenue, the release said.

The 29-year-old man also had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, the release said.

During a search, officers found pills, some resembling Oxycodone, according to the release. While storing them as evidence, one officer started having difficulty breathing, the release said. Other officers felt light-headedness and confusion.

Medics responded and gave the most affected officer two applications of NARCAN, an opioid antidote, and moved him outside. The officer with him at the evidence facility received immediate treatment and the two were transported to a nearby hospital as a precaution, the release said.

Spokane Fire Department personnel put the pills in a container for storage, according to the release.

Shortly after at the jail, a training recruit officer requested medics evaluate the 29-year-old and they found he did not need treatment at a hospital, the release said. The recruit officer went to the hospital as a precaution, according to the release.

“It appears the exposure will not have any long-term effects,” the release said.

Last September, two Spokane police officers had similar symptoms and needed NARCAN after becoming delirious and sweating profusely at a welfare call. The officers were responding to a call of two people slumped in a car, police said.

Within minutes of arriving, the officers requested medics and said they were dealing with a possible overdose. Officers found an unknown substance in the pocket of one of the ill people and believed they were exposed to airborne opioid particles, police said.

Last July, an officer in Mississippi was handling fentanyl with gloves on in hot weather and overdosed after he wiped his sweaty brow, local news outlet WLOX reported. In August, a northern California officer had to self-administer NARCAN after arresting a person who’d been smoking what he suspected was fentanyl, according to a Santa Rosa Police Department news release.

Another synthetic opioid, Carfentanil, is about 10,000 times more potent than morphine, 100 times more potent than fentanyl and not approved for human use. DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg called Carfentanil “crazy dangerous” in 2016, saying law enforcement see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin.

If officers suspect the presence of Carfentanil or any synthetic opioid, DEA advises them not to take samples or otherwise disturb it and to only allow properly trained law enforcement to handle it.

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