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As Fentanyl Overdoses Increase, Officers Get Special Safety Training

By Jennifer Brice

THORNTON, Colo. (CBS4) - It's called the "serial killer" of drugs. Colorado is now dealing with an alarming amount of overdose deaths from fentanyl.

So far this year for 2016, Adams County reports 18 deaths containing fentanyl. Denver County is reporting five. Arapahoe and Larimer counties are each with four.

(credit: CBS)

Fentanyl is making headlines almost daily. It killed Prince. It's what former surgical technician, Rocky Allen, stole from Colorado hospitals.

Rocky Allen
Rocky Allen (credit: CBS)

Fentanyl also sent 11 Connecticut cops to the hospital. Airborne particles made officers sick during a bust. It's why police across the country are being warned about the dangerous drug.

CBS4's Jennifer Brice got an exclusive look at how officers are being trained so the deadly drug does not kill them.

New England Narcotics (Boston) Association Detective Matt Gutwill traveled Colorado in November, training our states officers about fentanyl. He says our heroin problem just got worse with fentanyl.

"The guys that are selling the drugs that are laced with fentanyl are using our people who are addicted to drugs as human guinea pigs," says Gutwill.

Matthew Gutwill
Detective Matthew Gutwill (credit: CBS)

Fentanyl is a powerful prescription drug for pain. It's a synthetic opioid but street dealers are also making it. It's a better high for heroin users, says Gutwill.

"You have morphine and fentanyl is a thousand times stronger then morphine."

(credit: CBS)

Fentanyl is airborne. It can be absorbed into your body through the skin. This is why law enforcement and first responders are now trying to better protect themselves.

"As law enforcement we have to worry about are we going to cross contaminate ourselves," says Gutwill. "We also have to think about when the fire department shows up and they transport them to the hospitals."

It's a danger to nurses, doctors and any kind of medical responder. It's even dangerous to a Good Samaritan who might help a person overdosing.

Thornton police officer Mark Ashby elected to go to the training. He's a training drug recognition expert who worries about the new threat of fentanyl.

"I know with fentanyl being such a small chemical it really scares me," says Ashby. "Because it's so powerful and you can't see it most of the times."

Experts says fentanyl can be deadly on just the amount equivalent to a few grains of salt.

(credit: CBS)

The head of the DEA released a video, urging officer who encounter fentanyl to not field test it. Jack Riley told officers to "transport it directly to a laboratory where it can be safely handled and tested."

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Two police officers almost died in New Jersey from being exposed to it while sealing an evidence bag.
The officers says they felt like their bodies were shutting down and became disoriented.

The Colorado Drug Investigators Association says Colorado is leaning on the edge of a fentanyl epidemic. Prescription drug abuse has lead to heroin, according to Sergeant Jim Gerhardt. He says heroin is now leading to fentanyl.

Jim Gerhardt
Jim Gerhardt (credit: CBS)

"Heroin is a more potent high than prescription drug abuse and fentanyl is a more potent high than morphine or heroin. It's just on that continuum," Gerhardt said.

Gutwill says everyone should be concerned.

"Fentanyl is morphine on steroids," he adds.

Naloxone, used for heroin and morphine overdoses, is also given to reverse a fentanyl overdose. EMTs typically carry it. Police are now starting to carry it, too.

Jennifer Brice is a reporter with CBS4 focusing on crime and courts. Follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @CBS4Jenn.

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