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There is increasing concern in public safety and public health communities about the potential exposure of first responders to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug with health effects ranging from drowsiness to respiratory failure.   Fentanyl can be taken into the body through different routes, including inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption, depending on the situation and the form of drug.  Because of the hazards of fentanyl and its serious health concerns, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed recommendations for safe work practices and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment for activities in which fentanyl or its analogs may be present. 


In a recent blog, NIOSH provides more details on fentanyl and exposure risks for first responders and provides links to its interim recommendations for law enforcement when dealing with fentanyl. The NIOSH blog also encourages the first responder community to offer comments related to fentanyl. 


The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has also prepared a briefing guide for first responders.


NFPA has seen a flurry of activity from first responders regarding exposure to fentanyl and carfentanil, and posted a blog warning about the health and safety risks to first responders when the NIOSH recommendations first came out. While NFPA has no official guidance to offer at this time, several documents or standards may be useful for first responders in taking precautionary measures.  These include:


  • - Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents
  • - Standard for Competencies for EMS Personnel Responding to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents
  • - Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program
  • - Standard on Breathing Air Quality for Emergency Services Respiratory Protection
  • - Standard on Protective Clothing and Ensembles for Emergency Medical Operations

Earlier this year, NFPA Journal® also reported on first responders grappling with the opioid crisis in their cover story "Chasing a Killer."

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