Drugs

The Feds Are Spreading Fake Facts About Fentanyl 

While fentanyl is a dangerous drug, it is very difficult to overdose on it through accidental exposure.

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Police officers in Texas heard some terrifying news on June 26, 2018: Anti-government flyers poisoned with a deadly opioid had been placed on Harris County Sheriff's Office squad cars, and a sergeant who had touched one was en route to the hospital with overdose symptoms. The incident set off a flurry of media coverage, and police as far away as Maine and Massachusetts received alerts about it.

Only it wasn't true. Three days later, a laboratory analysis found there was in fact no fentanyl on the flyers. The Harris County Sheriff's Office blamed the panic on a problem with field test kits.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is involved in nearly half of drug-related deaths in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Among law enforcement agencies, it has taken on quasi-magical properties. First responders around the country have claimed they nearly died from accidental exposure, based on the scientifically inaccurate idea that a fatal amount of fentanyl can pass through human skin or poison the air.

That misconception has spread through a surprising avenue: America's counterterrorism agencies. Police documents released as part of "BlueLeaks," a massive trove of law enforcement data obtained by the hacker collective Anonymous, show that fusion centers—local liaison offices set up by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11—have circulated fentanyl misinformation, panicking police officers and wasting first responders' time.

A 2012 U.S. Senate report found that fusion centers had spent as much as $1.2 billion to provide "oftentimes shoddy" and "rarely timely" information. Out of 121 fentanyl-related bulletins in the BlueLeaks trove, at least 36 claimed that fentanyl could be absorbed through the skin and at least 41 discussed the alleged danger of airborne fentanyl.

Some of the documents originated in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which shares information between local law enforcement and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. All bulletins about fentanyl from Arizona's HIDTA office between May 2015 and January 2018—documents that were sometimes shared by California fusion centers—came with a warning that fentanyl "can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin."

While fentanyl is a dangerous drug, it is very difficult to overdose on it through accidental exposure. The fentanyl patches used by cancer patients require moisture for the drug to be gradually absorbed through the skin. And someone would have to stand near an industrial-sized concentration of fentanyl for more than two and a half hours to feel the effects of airborne exposure, according to the American College of Medical Toxicology.

"Law enforcement bulletins regarding fentanyl have changed over time," a spokesperson for Arizona's HIDTA says in response to questions about the accuracy of its advice. "Information received by law enforcement over the past five years regarding fentanyl exposure is continually updated."

The more myths about fentanyl spread, the more officers in the field panicked, convinced they had fallen victim to accidental overdoses. One state trooper was responding to an overdose in Sussex County, Delaware, when he suddenly experienced "an accelerated heart rate," "lightheadedness," and "a tingling sensation in his legs," according to an October 2018 bulletin from the Delaware Information & Analysis Center, that state's fusion center.

These are symptoms of anxiety, not an opioid overdose. But the Delaware trooper was rushed to the hospital and "treated" with the opioid antagonist naloxone. The Delaware Information & Analysis Center, which warned officers "to treat all unknown substances as if they could be deadly if inhaled or absorbed through the skin," did not respond to a request for comment.

Public "paranoia" about accidental fentanyl exposure has caused first responders to "waste" naloxone, the Young Physicians Section of the American Medical Association complained in a 2019 resolution. "Stigma of opioid abuse and overdose has already made first responders reluctant to intervene in a timely manner when someone is suspected of overdosing," the group further warned.

The federal government released accurate fentanyl guidelines in November 2017 and followed up with an instructional video in August 2018. But misinformation about opioids continues to compromise America's response to illicit fentanyl.

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  1. Cops should quit there jobs if their that scared. I hear there’s plenty of openings at shop rite,

    1. Why is it Uncle Sam’s business when I trade fentanyl for sex with children? Where is the Libertarian party to defend my rights and the rights of child sex workers?

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        1. You are really weak. No one cares.

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    2. They panicked over misinformation spread by the government and the media. Totally unlike the panic over Covid-19.
      You still see cops out and about doing their jobs – how about journalists and teachers?

      1. Teachers need to stay away from schools, for the children.

      2. Teachers are saints, whether they teach or not.

        1. It also seems they have a much more effective union than the police, and that’s saying something.

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  4. The federal government released accurate fentanyl guidelines in November 2017 and followed up with an instructional video in August 2018.

    But nobody trusts the government to give out accurate information about these sorts of things. I blame Trump and his badmouthing of our most sacred institutions of democracy.

    1. Government bureaucrats are second only to New York Times reporters when it comes to honestly.

  5. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office blamed the panic on a problem with field test kits.
    The tests correctly identified that what you have is a substance.

    1. How about a field IQ test?

  6. “blamed the panic on a problem with field test kits.”

    Field drug tests are a pseudo-scientific joke. They have zero business using that garbage. It is very dangerous to the public who are routinely abused by cops when a field test shows donut glaze as methamphetamine, baking soda as cocaine, poppy seed bagels as opioids. The list of incompetence goes on and on and on.

    Those field test kits even caused a laughable placebo effect in the cop in this incident who experienced OD symptoms!

  7. Endless drug panics. Forever.

  8. The feds spread fake facts about just about everything, why should fentanyl be special?

  9. Wait – aren’t these ‘experts’? How can they be spreading fake facts? They work for the government.

    We’re supposed to be able to absolutely rely on government experts – to the point that we must reflexively obey them without thinking.

    At least when the experts tell you to do what you already want to do.

  10. “Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is involved in nearly half of drug-related deaths in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Among law enforcement agencies, it has taken on quasi-magical properties. First responders around the country have claimed they nearly died from accidental exposure, based on the scientifically inaccurate idea that a fatal amount of fentanyl can pass through human skin or poison the air.”

    Give them a break. They probably confused fentanyl with the corona virus.

  11. bullshit in my town 20 have died from it already this year and that number goes back to august population 12000. Admitted this town has a drug problem

    1. I’d wager those 20 people were trying to do heroin and it was tainted with fentanyl. That’s not what the article is about.

      Although your anecdote is a good reason why heroin should be legalized. No one dies from tainted Tylenol.

    2. They didn’t die from Fentanyl. They died because heroin is illegal so there is a black market incentive to spike heroin with Fentanyl for increased profit.

      That wouldn’t happen if heroin was legal, now would it? You don’t see spiked alcohol making people blind anymore, do you? That only happened during prohibition.

      1. Amen. Heroin should be legal.
        And yes, fentanyl, too, for those who want it.
        NO sarcasm.

    3. 20 cops died from touching fentanyl?

  12. Cops are spreading lies? I’m shocked I tell you! Shocked!

  13. It’s impossible that a government agency is “oftentimes shoddy” and “rarely timely”.

  14. I will disagree with your statement s about the safety of inhaled or skin exposure to Fentanyl.
    The Russians killed a lot of terrorists, along with some hostages with inhaled fentanyl.
    It can be absorbed thru the skin, and fentanyl patches have killed plenty of opioid naive people.
    Government inspired hysteria is a real thing, I remember hysteria about AIDS, , crack, sars, child predators and corona virus.
    Why should fentanyl be any different.?

    1. When (where, how) did the Russians kill a lot of people with inhaled fentanyl?

      1. Probably not fentanyl, but carfentanil (a similar drug that is 100x more potent).

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_theater_hostage_crisis

  15. Panic policy. Policy panic.

    Rules the world. Nothing really new about that.

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  17. I worked at a HIDTA during that time frame and I remember the onslaught of fentanyl related warnings and the concerns about accidental exposure, not just for cops though, there was a great deal of concern for the drug sniffing dogs. Like with any bureaucratic solution to public safety, when dealing with unknowns the tendency is to assume the worst and at that time, the trafficking of fentanyl disguised as oxycodone was ratcheting up that seemed to justify that stance, too. And then it’s the government and this is law enforcement, this is part of the job, to over warn everyone given the risks if they were to take too soft a stance.

    This article is written as if the only reason for alarmist fentanyl warnings was somehow done specifically and with intent to bamboozle people. Instead, imho, this is what government always does. Too much of whatever solution it chooses made worse due to uncertainty and obvious overreaction (e.g. the dire the sky is falling COVID response of information that becomes misinformation but is still all used for a draconian government response). There’s nothing really surprising about this. Depressing maybe, but not surprising.

  18. I will disagree with your declaration s about the protection of inhaled or skin publicity to Fentanyl. The Russians killed a number of terrorists, along with some hostages with inhaled fentanyl. It can be absorbed via the skin, and fentanyl patches have killed masses of opioid naive people. Government inspired hysteria is a actual thing, I consider hysteria approximately AIDS, , crack, sars, baby predators and corona virus. Why ought to fentanyl be any different.?

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  20. I will disagree along with your statement s about the safety of inhaled or pores and skin exposure to Fentanyl. The Russians killed a number of terrorists, along with some hostages with inhaled fentanyl. It can be absorbed thru the pores and skin, and fentanyl patches have killed hundreds of opioid naive people. Government inspired hysteria is a actual thing, I take into account hysteria approximately AIDS, , crack, sars, baby predators and corona virus. Why should fentanyl be any different.?
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