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Melodramatic Police Press Conferences Regarding Contact with Fentanyl Being Fatal to Cops Is Missing Key Element—the Truth, Lament Experts Who Say It’s ‘Not Possible’

Cops have a new fiction for their reports and statements in the press that is not supported by toxicology experts and cannot be objectively examined in court. This new fiction is the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The fiction is based on a misinformation campaign starting in 2016 by a Drug Enforcement Agency video and a statement spread through ostensibly credible channels such as the United States Department of Justice, the National Police Foundation, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as many police departments claiming that getting fentanyl on one’s skin or even breathing it can be fatal for law enforcement officers.

Despite the fact that the information has been proven inaccurate by toxicology experts and medical professionals, another set of problems has been created by perpetuating the misinformation: number one, it perpetuates a stigma against people who use drugs as falsely portraying them as toxic and dangerous to be around; number two, the fear this misinformation provokes aggravates stress and burn out among police due to the extraordinary mental stain of believing they are going to die when responding to a drug related call; and number three, additional resources and equipment, hazmat suits, for example, used in an exaggerated preparation before entering a suspected drug bust area, cause unnecessary expense that tax-payers have to shoulder.  

There is an actual repercussion of the fentanyl propaganda, even more serious than the propagation of stigmas against drug users or the mental health of cops or the extra expense of exaggerated response, and that is the ability of cops to secure seriously trumped-up criminal charges based on such propaganda in situations involving drug interactions. Individuals who use drugs face charges of assault or endangerment of officers when officers falsely claim they have suffered an overdose of fentanyl during a drug bust.

If you ask cops, the mere existence of fentanyl is threatening cops’ lives. If you ask medical professionals, cops are grossly overstating the threat posed by the drug.

Accidental overdose by skin exposure “is chemically and physically implausible,” said Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and addiction medicine specialist who serves as an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Dr. Andrew Stolbach, an emergency physician and medical toxicologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said, “It’s not possible to overdose on fentanyl by touching it. If it was absorbed well through the skin, people wouldn’t inject it and snort it in order to get high.”

Given this disconnect between cops’ unscientific claims and medical professionals’ evidence-based assertions, the only logical conclusion is for cop shops to tell their drug warriors to stop being so melodramatic. Instead, cops are ignoring the science and allowing their imaginations to act as the basis for serious criminal charges. Welcome to post-science America, where cops are able to secure felony charges based solely on their inability to understand drug interactions.

Despite the cop fantasy regarding fentanyl, people who use the drug are facing serious legal repercussions — such as charges of assault or endangerment of officers — for supposedly causing these impossible overdoses.

“People should not be in jail for imaginary crimes,” [Dr. Ryan] Marino said.

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