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Protecting First Responders From Illicit Drug Exposure

Oct 02, 2019

Use and abuse of illicit drugs is an unfortunate reality in today’s society. When drug Paramedics treating a patientoverdoses occur, emergency responders are often first on the scene to provide medical attention. Although the first priority is attending to those involved, emergency responders should be aware of the health hazards present in an environment with illicit drugs.

Exposure to substances such as fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamines can have serious health consequences such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness and respiratory depression. This can occur through a number of exposure routes including inhalation, ingestion, dermal and needle exposure and mucus membrane contact through the eyes, nose and mouth.

A new toolkit from NIOSH offers resources for educating first responders on the dangers of illicit drug exposure and steps they can take to protect themselves. The toolkit includes two training videos, produced in collaboration with the Fredericksburg, VA police and fire departments and the FBI Laboratory, on the hazards first responders face when exposed to illicit drugs. 

The first video, Illicit Drugs, Including Fentanyl: Preventing Occupational Exposure to Emergency Responders, features actual footage from a police officer’s body camera while responding to an overdose call and demonstrates the potential health effects of exposure.

“This video was developed to educate first responders using a real-life example that should resonate with many emergency responders and gives recommendations for minimal, moderate and high exposure situations,” says Jennifer Hornsby-Myers, CIH, industrial hygienist with the NIOSH Emergency Preparedness Response Office.

The second video, Properly Using PPE to Avoid Illicit Drug Exposure to First Responders, provides guidance on how to properly wear and remove PPE, and the types of PPE that should be worn in different situations. 

The toolkit also features infographics and a postcard, which provide quick guidance on the do's and don'ts of working in environments where illicit drugs are present. You can find further information on preventing exposure to emergency responders, standard safe operating procedures, training and PPE on the NIOSH website.

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