First responders protect themselves from deadly drug in Camden

CAMDEN, N.J. (WPVI) -- First responders are now being pro-active to protect themselves from the drug fentanyl in Camden, New Jersey.

When paramedics from Cooper University Hospital respond to a drug overdose putting on protective gear is a must.

It's one way to protect them from the deadly effects of fentanyl.

A powerful painkiller drug dealers are using to blend with heroin. It's up to 50 times more powerful and a small dose or accidental exposure can kill you.

Ron Murphy, a Cooper EMS Clinical Manager said, "Our people are exposed to it if they breathe it in they can actually succumb to some of the effects which is respiratory arrest. So we ask them to put masks on so you're not exposed to this stuff. Where are your gloves? Cover of your skin as best you can."

Dave Mendoza, a Cooper EMS Paramedic said, "If it's floating around kind of like a dust it's a particulate so we have to take cautions against ingesting it ourselves and being adversely affected by that."

Capt. Richard Verticelli of the Camden Co. police said, "The officers don't field test narcotics anymore. They are sent to the lab to be tested."

Camden county police say the danger of exposure to fentanyl is too great. Two Atlantic County detectives were exposed by a puff of it in the air.

"I thought I was dying, that's what my body felt like. If I can imagine or describe where your body is completely shutting down," Detective E. Price said.

Two Cherry Hill police officers had to be decontaminated in May when they were exposed to an unknown substance while investigating an overdose call.

In Evesham Twp. Police have acquired the reversal drug Narcan for their tracking dogs should they be exposed.

"Well it's scary stuff. It's certainly not something that I want to be exposed to accidentally," Cooper EMS Paramedic Astro Ayala said.

And there are derivatives like carfentanyl up to 100,000 times more powerful than heroin.

"We are worried that dermal exposure to that through the skin could kill someone, even a first responder," Dr. Gerry Carroll of Cooper University Hospital said.

So first responders are dealing with this deadly drug very carefully. They know their lives are on the line.
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