Pittsburgh's U.S. Attorney Is Lying to Cops and Constituents About the Actual Risks of Fentanyl Exposure

Bad science and panics by those who want to escalate the opioid drug war.


U.S. Attorney Scott Brady

A U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania took to Twitter Tuesday to spread fear and panic that any exposure to the opioid fentanyl is potentially deadly, and police officers are in imminent danger whenever they interact with the drug in any way.

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, representing the Western District of Pennsylvania, tweeted out a link to a release about a federal guilty plea by Anthony Lozito, 40, for charges related to fentanyl dealing in western Pennsylvania. Lozito was arrested in 2017 following a SWAT raid on his home. During the raid, a table with powdered narcotics on it was overturned and some of it was tossed into the air.

All 18 SWAT officers were then sent to a local hospital to determine whether they had been exposed to fentanyl, and they were all fine. Brady painted a very different picture of the incident, writing that "18 SWAT officers…were hospitalized from mere exposure to airborne fentanyl."

Brady's reaction is both typical and mostly wrongheaded. Like nearly all prescription drugs that are made for injecting or swallowing, powdered fentanyl cannot be absorbed through unbroken skin. The same principle explains why you can't cure a headache by rubbing a Tylenol pill on your forehead. The fentanyl patches given to cancer patients, meanwhile, are mixed with other drugs to help the pain reliever pass through the skin.

Yet lawmakers and law enforcement officials are obsessed with the idea that first responders are at risk of an overdose simply by touching or even being in the same room with powdered fentanyl. While it is indeed possible for fentanyl to enter the bloodstream through mucous membranes in the nose and mouth, not one of the 18 officers mentioned in Brady's tweet seems to have actually inhaled the drug. Here's the description by Brady's office:

"Fentanyl exposure is an all too real risk to law enforcement as we learned this morning," said [then-]Acting U.S. Attorney [Soo C.] Song. "During the search of the Bond Street residence pursuant to the search warrant, a table where the drugs were being bagged was overturned causing the suspected fentanyl to become airborne. Several SWAT operators experienced dizziness and numbness. In all, 18 officers were transported to UPMC-Mercy for evaluation before being medically cleared. Quick and professional action by first responders helped avert a potential catastrophe."

As in other reports of first responders who were supposedly dosed with fentanyl, supposedly felt ill, but did not require the overdose reversal drug naloxone, a panic attack provides a better explanation. It's also more understandable one: Cops are being told by their superiors and by clueless reporters that simply being in the same room as powdered fentanyl can kill them. That the people whose doors they're banging down are touching the stuff and breathing the same air without dropping dead is likely lost on them in the heat of the raid. It's certainly lost on Brady.

The reporting of the post-raid panic by KDKA, Pittsburgh's CBS affiliate, reinforced the freakout. Even the chief of emergency services at the hospital emphasized the potential dangers:

"Fortunately, the individuals that were involved this morning were able to get out of the situation right away," said Dr. [Michael] Turteurro. "The big thing that we did for them is we basically decreased the chance that they could be exposed to anything that was laying on their bodies or on their clothes. So the big thing is to get the clothes off them, get them showered, get them decontaminated and then have them evaluated by a medical professional."

Reason's Mike Riggs interviewed Stanford anesthesiologist Steven Shafer back in 2017 to provide an antidote to this panic and explain how these opioids actually work. If law enforcement officials are concerned about accidentally inhaling powdered opioids, perhaps they should consider how they're conducting the drug war and whether SWAT raids with more than a dozen people are actually needed for these busts.

Just last year, Brady wrote an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette encouraging the use of aggressive law enforcement tactics to fight the opioid overdose crisis. It's important for him that the public remains in a state of fear over fentanyl so that he can continue to perpetuate a new front on the drug war. Don't expect those responses to his tweet to have any impact on his thinking.

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  1. Several SWAT operators experienced dizziness and numbness.

    Isn’t that the key question. They either did experience these things or this sentence was a total lie. Which is it? I would think if several officers experienced those symptoms, it would be in the police report.

    1. Yes, because we always believe cops who “fear for their lives”. Cops are better than us and would never have a panic attack; when they shoot a dachshund, it’s because it really was life-threatening.

      1. Well, not so much that as I want to see if what this US attorney said via social media was a load of crap. Hence, my question of would we not see something noted in the official report. And maybe some toxicology testing to make sure the police officers were ok?

    2. Oh, they may well have experienced those symptoms. The relevant question is causation – where their symptoms the result of actual exposure or an artifact of stress and psychosomatic reactions?

      Since they tested negative for exposure, I am willing to give them the benefit of doubt about their subjective experiences – and to use it as further examples why those subjective reactions should not be considered evidence.

  2. “a table where the drugs were being bagged was overturned” is police report lingo for “the officers flipped a table for no good reason”. Another time shock and awe backfired.

  3. …perhaps they should consider how they’re conducting the drug war and whether SWAT raids with more than a dozen people are actually needed for these busts.

    Bingo. Maybe instead only send a couple guys in an up-armored MRAP to drive through the target address (or whatever may or may not be written on the warrant), or perhaps all the SWAT members could be fitted with some kind of military grade tactical contamination suits, or fuck it just develop robots to have at the drug lords in Pittsburgh.

  4. I’m pretty sure you are going to notice pretty soon if you have ingested any significant amount of fentanyl.

  5. What with the potential legalization of pot and psychedelics, the drug warriors need new enemies to pursue to justify their existence. Suddenly vaping and opioids are way more dangerous.

    We’ve got to protect our phony- baloney jobs, gentlemen.

    1. Exactly.

  6. A black-market drug dealer who meets the demand of paying customers vs. a government attorney who literally lies for a living on our dime. Which is more dangerous to liberty?

    Attorneys and Drug Warriors should be held to a higher standard. To do otherwise undermines public faith in the justice system.

  7. Slightly OT, I was listening to some state AG (South Carolina ?) on NPR laying out the case for suing the drug companies for manufacturing and marketing pain relievers (mostly, they made a lot of money so what more evidence do you need that they’re evil?) and he delved into some sort of “indifference” and “duty to care” stuff that immediately suggested to me that the exact same case could be made against the FDA and the state-level equivalents. Maybe even the Attorney General of South Carolina.

    And, btw, the opioid crisis is an example of what sort of world we’d have without government regulation and without an FDA which proves libertarians are retarded for opposing regulation. But of course you already knew this.

    1. Government regulation is what turned a over prescribing problem into thousands of ODs on street drugs when people were kicked out of the medical system, not to mention immense suffering and suicides among pain patients denied relief.

      That the kind of regulation you like?

    2. Before regulators and drug warriors were freaking out about prescription opioids and trying to limit their use, they were encouraging greater use of the same drugs. Maybe they should just stay the fuck out of private medical decisions. But I guess that only applies when abortion is involved.

  8. Just another right-wing drug warrior.

    He, and his kind, will be replaced.

    1. Yes, because God knows that democrats like Biden, Clinton (both), and Harris never flogged the prohibition horse.

  9. Funny thing, but I smell the strong pew of a Certified Gummit Dweeb going all theatrical and working overtime (for which he is happily billing T1.5) to manufacture “evidence” (what HE calls that tripe that emanates from his cake hole) “justifying” not only his continuing existence but also that of many other useless (or worse) other gummit dweebs.

    He should be taken to task for his overt fabrications which he passess off as truth.

    Lying is common nevertheless unbecoming, of government workers.

  10. If fentanyl were really that dangerous, the problem would solve itself as sellers would drop over dead all the time and there would be no one left to sell it. If some junkie can transport, cut, package, sell and use the drug without dying every time then it isn’t as deadly as they say.

  11. This all started when we began humoring people who couldn’t be on a plane that ever landed at the Delta hub because they grow peanuts in Georgia.

  12. They might be thinking of the even more ridiculously powerful things like carfentanyl, which are potent enough that you can easily inhale enough to kill or incapacitate you. They used something like that in the Russian theater hostage thingy years ago. But I don’t think there are any actual incidents of police being injured by something like that.

  13. Imagine that. People who have been lying for decades about marijuana also lie about other drugs. I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

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