HANFORD — Law enforcement officers run the risk of encountering any number of life-threatening situations, even during a run-of-the-mill traffic stop, and now local officers are equipped with something that could save not only citizens’ lives, but their own.
Last Saturday, four Kings County deputies were hospitalized after coming into contact with a toxic substance during a traffic stop near Laton.
The driver, 43-year-old Gene Brady, had a warrant out for his arrest. While searching Brady’s car, deputies said they found a white powdery substance that looked like a narcotic.
It was fentanyl, an opioid described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as being “up to 100 times more potent than morphine” and many times more potent than heroin. While testing the drug, the deputies quickly became ill and had to be taken to the hospital.
Opioids, which minimize the perception of pain, include prescription painkillers such as morphine, codeine and oxycodone. Illegal drugs such as heroin are also opioids.
In the past few years, the Drug Enforcement Agency has issued alerts on two newer illegal opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
In some cases, officers have come into contact with the drugs while in the line of duty and been saved by having naloxone available. Naloxone is a medication that can help reverse the effects of an organic or synthetic opioid overdose.
Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin, so it’s fairly easy for officers to have an accidental overdose.
While opioids are not a huge problem in Kings County, they are a growing problem across the nation, said Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever. That is why all Hanford Police Department officers now carry naloxone.
Naloxone is a simple and easy-to-use nasal spray that the officers can use on citizens overdosing on opioids or on fellow officers experiencing the effects of opioids. Sever said his officers have been carrying the medication for the past two months.
Commander Mark Bevens of the Kings County Sheriff’s Office said about 80-90 percent of the deputies also carry the naloxone spray, though none were carrying it when the incident occurred over the weekend.
Sever said the department was proactive on getting the naloxone, approaching the issue after doing research and seeing that many other departments across the nation are also issuing the spray to officers.
Sever said he took the idea to the Kings County Health Department, who spearheaded the project and provided funding for the naloxone spray for both the police department and the sheriff’s office.
Along with deputies, who have been carrying naloxone for the past few weeks, Bevens said the spray is also available in the evidence room, just in case a deputy is exposed from any opioids in evidence bags. He said the department is lucky in the sense that no officers have had to administer the medication.
In addition to being trained on the signs and symptoms of an opioid-induced overdose, Bevens said it won’t be long before all the deputies are trained on using naloxone and carrying it on a daily basis.
Both Sever and Bevens said there are no side effects to the naloxone spray, and it wouldn’t hurt anyone who was not on opioids if it were used on them.
Bevens said officers and deputies are often exposed to various narcotics, and the spray can keep them and the public safer, especially because smaller doses of opioids can affect officers more than long-time users.
Sever also sees no downside to officers carrying naloxone.
“This has the potential to save a life, whether it is an officer or a citizen,” Sever said.
A HAZMAT team from Visalia was brought in to decontaminate the vehicle and collect evidence after Saturday’s incident. All four deputies, who were not named, were taken to Adventist Medical Center and released hours later after showing no further symptoms of exposure.