An ion scanner to swab for drug residue and a fume hood for handling toxic drugs are just some of the recent changes to help Red Deer RCMP officers battle the local opioid crisis.
Red Deer RCMP Insp. Gerald Grobmeier said coming into contact with fentanyl or carfentanil powder while dealing with a suspect or during a search is a real concern.
“We could be doing a search in a house for something that’s not drug related. We’re actually finding it on the persons themselves. They just need a little bit of powder on them, in a baggie, or anything. If we simply inhale it, or come in contact with it, it could overcome a police officer,” Grobmeier said.
During an incident this fall two officers were exposed to fentanyl and had to be revived with naloxone, he said.
“The people that they worked with were trained. They recognized the symptoms very quickly. They were given naloxone which worked.”
Besides training with naloxone spray, officers also have access to filtrated masks, gloves and glasses if necessary, he said.
“We’re also having to re-evaluate how we do our day-to-day police work. How we search a house. How we search a vehicle. What protocols we have to have in place. So we’re putting all those together as well.”
He said police have focused on training and personal protection equipment and slowing down some investigation methods. But sometimes eliminating exposure isn’t always possible.
“We can’t mitigate the entire risk because police officers have to respond and sometimes they don’t have the luxury of stopping and making a plan because somebody’s life is in danger.”
Grobmeier said police are still dealing with the same number of drug investigations, but fentanyl is becoming a more common ingredient.
A new fume hood at the Red Deer detachment is designed to deal with any drug powders to prevent exposure. An ion scanner, like the ones used at airports after a swab is taken of a passenger’s hands, specifically tests for drugs.
“We didn’t have that before so any powder we dealt with we truly didn’t know what we were dealing with until it was sent away to a lab. Now we have members trained on the ion scanner so they can take a quick swab, run it through the computer.”
In early November city hall was evacuated after carfentanil was found in a ground-floor public washroom. Carfentanil is 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. It looks much like table salt and a dose as small as 20 micrograms can be fatal to humans.
He warned anyone who comes across a suspicious substance should leave it and call the police.
“Gone are the days when people could package it up and bring it to the office,” Grobmeier said.
Red Deer Emergency Services’ Hazardous Materials Response Unit responded to the carfentanil scare at city hall. Damian LaGrange, acting deputy chief of operations with Red Deer Emergency Services, said incidents like that are rare, but emergency services are trained and prepared to deal with them.
“We are ready to deal with it wherever it might be found,” LaGrange said.
“Exposure to drugs at scenes, that’s not new in the world of EMS, the world of firefighters and hazmat techs.”
The hazmat team consists of up to 10 hazardous materials technicians on shift at anytime. They work in collaboration with RCMP to assess and deal with any locations where there might potentially be harmful opioid products.
LaGrange said paramedics have long been able to deal with opioid overdoses. Naloxone is a standard supply on ambulances. It can be used for morphine, fentanyl and other medications and drugs that have been used or misused. But the frequency of ambulance calls concerning fentanyl has increased.