Maybe you’ve seen the dramatic headlines (or the even more dramatic videos) of officers writhing in agony after accidental exposure to fentanyl during a drug bust.
A lot of drug addicts (and a few dealers) are now serving additional prison time as a result of these exposures. When an officer gets injured by contact with an illegal drug during an investigation or an arrest, the newest thing to do is to charge the suspect with assault on a peace officer, in addition to any other charges they may face.
That may sound fair enough – unless you happen to know that merely touching or getting close to fentanyl can’t actually lead to an accidental overdose.
The headlines and hype overruled common sense (and medical knowledge)
In one well-documented incident in Ohio from 2017, a police officer allegedly suffered a near-fatal overdose after merely brushing what looked like powdered fentanyl off his uniform – and the defendant in the case was given an extra 18 months of jail time for the assault.
Toxicologists say there’s no way that happened. If fentanyl could be absorbed through minor skin contact, it would be near-impossible to handle by addicts and dealers alike, and drug addicts wouldn’t have to take fentanyl in pills or via injection to get high.
Since 2017, there have been more than 150 media reports of similar incidents. A study by the Journal of Medical Toxicology says that the slow hysteria can actually be traced back to a 2016 warning by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) which said fentanyl could be absorbed through either the skin or accidental inhalation.
The DEA has since scrubbed that warning from its site, but the idea that fentanyl is so unbelievably toxic that even the slightest exposure can prove deadly to the police or first responders has lingered – with real-world consequences for offenders who are sitting in prison for what amounts to an “imaginary crime.”
Situations like this are a reminder of why it’s so important to have experienced representation when you’re facing serious drug charges.