NIOSH: Protect Emergency Response Workers from Exposure to Fentanyl
A new workplace safety and health topic page published by NIOSH collects resources and information related to protecting emergency responders from occupational exposure to fentanyl. Fentanyl is a prescription drug typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. Fentanyl and its analogs are “extremely dangerous when used illicitly,” and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) associates fentanyl with an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths in the U.S. The drugs pose a potential hazard to emergency responders such as law enforcement officers, public health workers, and first responders who could unknowingly come into contact with these drugs. Exposure via inhalation or skin absorption can be deadly.
Legal forms of fentanyl and its analogs include powder, patches, tablets, and spray. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is often in the form of powder, but NIOSH notes that it is also being pressed into counterfeit tablets and sold as commonly misused prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
“Fentanyl and its analogs are being mixed with heroin to increase potency or are being sold as heroin so dealers and buyers may not know exactly what they are selling or using,” NIOSH’s webpage on the illegal use of fentanyl says.
NIOSH provides interim recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE) to help protect emergency responders based on the reported toxicity and chemical structure of fentanyl. When handling and processing fentanyl and its analogs, NIOSH recommends that workers wear nitrile gloves and a NIOSH-approved half-mask filtering facepiece respirator rated P100 or a tight-fitting full facepiece air-purifying respirator with multi-purpose P100 cartridges/canisters. Those performing tasks that could aerosolize fentanyl should wear dermal protection that covers both arms and legs such as coveralls or chemical-resistant and disposable protective sleeves that are impermeable, coated, and film-based.
For more information, see NIOSH’s topic page on fentanyl.