CMPD outfitting officers to protect them from fentanyl-laced drugs

Updated: Jun. 14, 2017 at 5:28 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say they're seeing more overdoses from street drugs laced with fentanyl.

CMPD says since the beginning of January - year to date - they've seen 62 overdoses. During the first 70 days of the year, 42% of those deaths were fentanyl-related.

Experts say fentanyl is a powerful drug that can get into the body through the skin, nose, and eyes and cause problems. Investigators say street dealers are adding fentanyl to heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

There have been cases around the country where officers who were exposed to fentanyl became sick.

"It causes them to feel like they're going to pass out, causes heart issues, respiratory issues and eventually it can cause death," says Sgt Katherine Scheimreif of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

CMPD says the department hasn't had any officers injured from fentanyl exposure. Police commanders say they're taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen.

"We're at the point now we cannot take any chances," says Sgt Scheimreif. "If an officer makes a traffic stop and somebody has crack cocaine in the car for instance, we're training them to hold the scene until someone who is outfitted can get there and properly collect it."

CMPD says to make sure officers are not at risk, the department decided to let crime scene technicians who were trained to handle fentanyl respond to scenes where drugs are involved and wear the proper gear  - double gloves and apron to protect clothes and skin, a mask to prevent inhaling the drug and goggles with a seal to guard the eyes.

Sgt Scheimreif said, "Yesterday I trained about 200 police officers on the street, on what to wear, how to put the gear on and of course the resident dangers they can come in contact when they come contact with these substances."

She added, "So any time any of these drugs are seen by police officers on a scene or taken out of a person's pocket there are immediately being trained to put on this outfit if you will to protect themselves."

CMPD says every officer will eventually be trained and given the protective gear.

Department leaders say they're taking more precautions. Investigators say they're responding to overdoses in neighborhoods across the city.

They say "40% of overdose cases are in residential settings, 14% are street – open streets, and about 10% are in hotels, restaurants, bars, that type of thing."

"The challenge with heroin and heroin investigations in general is it often touches many levels of society and locations so there's not one particular place that we see it more so than others" says Lt Travis Pardue.

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