Parents, pets become unintended victims of opioid epidemic

WASHINGTON — As the opioid epidemic continues to claim overdose victims in the D.C. region, narcotics investigators report there are a growing number of unintended victims overdosing on fentanyl who never took the drug — parents and pets.

Someone can overdose on fentanyl just by touching or smelling it. Fairfax County 2nd Lt. James Cox said that happened to the parent of an overdose victim, overcome during an emotional moment picking up clothes from the hospital.

“We’re seeing where parents or family members are picking up clothes and actually smelling the clothes to get the sort of last smell of that loved one,” said Cox of the incident.

“If the drugs are still on the clothing, you potentially have a family member inhaling the illegal substance that’s on those clothes and the parent or family member could overdose themselves.”

The potency of the synthetic drug puts responding officers at risk, as well as anyone in the user’s home unaware of what not to touch. It’s not just people, but animals who are at risk.

“Law enforcement is afraid to use their dogs on packages now in fear that it has carfentanil or fentanyl on it because if the dog was to inhale that drug you are potentially killing your dog,” Cox said.

“We do use dogs and we actually have NARCAN prescriptions for them,” said Capt. Paul Liquorie with Montgomery County police.

As well as carrying NARCAN, the name brand of the opioid antidote naloxone, the department is investing in hospital-grade masks and thicker protective gloves for officers responding to drug calls.

“We had an officer who was transporting some fentanyl back to the station to be logged into evidence and while in route … started getting symptomatic and had to be transported by EMS,” Liquorie said.

Anne Arundel County Lt. Ryan Frashure said his department hasn’t had any incidents like that “but its certainly something we’re preparing to deal with.”

But the potential for exposure is why all three departments treat overdose calls similar to a hazardous materials spill.

“We’re looking at it a lot like our meth labs,” Frashure said of officers entering a space likely containing drugs.

“Anything that they come into contact with could have that devastating drug on it,” Cox said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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