Synthetic Opioid Threat Prompts Bipartisan Push To Equip Police With Life Saving Screening Technology


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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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A bipartisan proposal in the Senate would arm local law enforcement across the country with advanced drug screening technology to protect officer lives from the threat of synthetic opioids.

Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown championed the legislation at a gathering of police in Dayton, Ohio, Sunday, arguing it is vital to give first responders the technology necessary to protect from accidental exposure to potent substances like fentanyl. The bill, dubbed the Providing Officers With Electronic Resources or POWER act, would give grants to local departments to purchase the expensive equipment, which can cost $10,000 or more, reports My Dayton Daily News.

Brown compares the proposal to the INTERDICT act, signed into law Jan. 10, which providers more funding and screening technology to agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is co-sponsoring the bill along with Brown.(RELATED: Study: States Might Be Undercounting Opioid Deaths By As Much As 70,000)

“It can save lives,” Brown said Sunday, according to My Dayton Daily News.

Ohio lost 4,329 residents to drug overdoses in 2016, a 24 percent increase over 2015, fueled by the flood of synthetic opioids like fentanyl that continue to pour into the country. The number of opioid deaths would be much higher without the presence of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, officials say. Ohio first responders administered roughly 43,000 doses of naloxone in 2016.

Overdose deaths are down in Dayton this year, however, officials warn that, “difficult work is yet ahead of us,” particularly when it comes to dealing with synthetic painkillers, which greatly vary in potency. Fentanyl is roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, while the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil is roughly 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Data released by officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention July 11 shows the majority of opioid-linked deaths are now the result of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The report shows synthetic opioids killed roughly 27,000 people across the U.S. over the 12-month period ending November 2017, up from roughly 19,413 lives in 2016 and 9,580 lives in 2015. The sharp increase prompted a Health Alert Network warning from CDC officials advising of the ever-increasing presence of synthetic opioids in the drug supply, including in non-opioid narcotics such as cocaine.

The health alert warns that first responders may not be aware of the amount of synthetic opioids floating around drug supplies in their community. It says patients suffering opioid overdoses may require increased care and “prolonged dosing of naloxone in the ED hospital setting due to a delayed toxicity that has been reported in some cases.”

Nationally, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016.

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