Fentanyl contamination is an expanding problem in California and across the United States. As will be discussed in greater detail in a moment, there are a number of reasons why and how different types of properties become contaminated with fentanyl. In advance of fentanyl decontamination of a property, a specific fentanyl site assessment must occur. A fentanyl site assessment includes a number of elements:
- Secure the suspected contaminated site
- Contact law enforcement
- Understand the dangers of fentanyl exposure
- Obtain appropriate personal protective equipment
- Site contamination sampling and testing
- Visually document contaminated site
Secure the Suspected Contaminated Site
Fentanyl is a highly dangerous substance when not appropriately contained in a medical setting. In fact, even in a medical setting, fentanyl can present a danger to third parties when an accident with a medicine delivery system (like a fentanyl patch) occurs.
The need to comprehensively secure the site of a suspected fentanyl contamination is vital. This must be done any time fentanyl contamination is even remotely suspected. When it comes to the possibility of exposure to fentanyl, the old cliché of “better safe than sorry” is absolutely applicable.
The securing process needs to include ensuring that all windows and doors are locked to ensure that no one without permission and personal protective equipment protection enters the premises until testing and remediation (if necessary) occur. Warning signs should be placed at all entrances into the premises as well.
Securing the premises applies to you as well if you are the individual who discovers a site that may be contaminated with fentanyl. What this means is you must not enter the premises if you suspect fentanyl contamination. If you are on the premises when you make a determination that fentanyl contamination may exist, you must exit immediately – and seal the property.
Contact Law Enforcement
If fentanyl contamination is suspected at a property, once you vacate the premises and cordon off the property, you need to contact law enforcement immediately. If fentanyl contamination may exist at a property, the situation likely arises from the operation of what commonly is referred to as a fentanyl lab or fentanyl pill mill. (Illicit fentanyl oftentimes is pressed into pill form.)
Law enforcement officials will make a determination as to the state of the premises and the extent of a danger that may exist. For example, if you come upon a property at which a fentanyl pill mill was being operated, contaminated equipment and a dangerous level of fentanyl residue may be present at the premises. The extent of contamination may be so significant that the intervention of a HAZMAT team may be necessary. This is truly an emergency response in addition to comprehensive fentanyl decontamination.
Understand the Dangers of Fentanyl Exposure
Fentanyl is an extremely potent drug. Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine. As a consequence, exposure to fentanyl at a contaminated site can result in an overdose in relatively short speed. There are four primary ways in which a person can become exposed to fentanyl at a contaminated site:
- Accidental ingestion
- Direct contact with mucous membranes
- Accidental needle sticks
Obtain Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment
The specific level of personal protective equipment to be worn at a site where fentanyl contamination is a possibility depends on the suspected level of contamination. A minimal situation is one in which the drug is thought to be present, but nothing is visible. An example of such a situation is when an EMS response is made to what is thought to be a drug overdose.
A moderate situation is one in which a smaller amount of what is thought to be fentanyl is visible. An example of this scenario is one in which EMS response to a suspected overdose and small amounts of the drug is visible.
Finally, a high-risk scene is one where larger amounts of fentanyl are present. Examples of this type of situation include:
- Fentanyl storage site
- Fentanyl distribution site
- Fentanyl milling operation
- Fentanyl production laboratory
Site Contamination Sampling and Testing
A fundamental element of a fentanyl site assessment is ascertaining where fentanyl residue and contamination may exist at a particular location. This determination is necessary in order to coordinate swabbing and the taking of appropriate samples to testing. A failure in this area can result in inadequate data being available to properly plot a fentanyl decontamination effort.
Visually Document Contaminated Site
As part of a fentanyl contamination site assessment, you need to visually document the premises. This involves making a video or taking photos of the site. You may elect to both video and photograph the site for comprehensive documentation.
Visually documenting the site of suspected fentanyl contamination as part of an assessment serves a number of purposes:
- Identifies areas at which sampling should occur (swabs taken) as part of the testing process
- Identifies hazards at the premises beyond that directly associated with potential fentanyl contamination (like worn floorboards, roof issues, and so forth)
- Documents scene before the testing and decontamination process commences to address any issues that arise during the remediation effort
- If an insurance claim may be involved in the process, visual documentation is invaluable in pursuing this type of coverage
By pursuing a comprehensive fentanyl contamination site assessment, you enhance the overall safety of the remediation process and you best ensure that a decontamination effort will be effectively undertaken.