NY Times throws more cold water on stories of cops who overdose on fentanyl merely by touching it in the field

On June 16, a Kansas City TV station ran a story about a local cop who, having simply had slight skin contact with fentanyl during an arrest, passed out and had to be revived with multiple doses of Narcan. Today the New York Times examines the cops-fentanyl phenomenon.

The [Kansas City] officer was taken to a nearby hospital and later released, and, like clockwork, the vivid footage began circulating. But there’s one major problem with all this: It’s nearly impossible for the symptoms depicted to have been caused by “fentanyl exposure.” The scientific literature shows, definitively, that brief contact with fentanyl is not sufficient for it to enter the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier to cause such a rapid overdose. All the way back in 2017, America’s leading toxicological societies noticed the spread of these viral exposure stories and tried to put them to rest; there have since been countless fact-checks and scientific debunkings by major news outlets, including one from The Times’s editorial board. Last month, a 33-year-old clinical toxicologist and emergency-medicine pharmacist named Ryan Feldman co-published a case study about the time he accidentally spilled a mammoth dose of pure liquid fentanyl all over himself at work; he simply washed it off, with no adverse effects.

It’s not that the symptoms seen on video are feigned. Some psychologists suggest a kind of “mass psychogenic illness” is afoot, or a form of conversion disorder — neurological symptoms without a clear physical cause — or, potentially, simple panic attacks. Police officers have been told, by authorities including the Drug Enforcement Administration, that microscopic amounts of fentanyl can be deadly; they are taught to fear this substance. Their bodies may react accordingly, exhibiting symptoms, like rapid breathing, that are indicative of distress and panic. (Fentanyl produces the exact opposite effect; high doses result in slow and shallow breaths.)

There have been so many debunkings of these stories that one suspects that most reporters and editors know by now what they are doing when they push these false narratives about the danger of casual, glancing fentanyl exposure.

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