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Opioids are drugs that were developed to control pain. Opioids include:
Health Canada states that opioids have the potential for problematic use because they can produce euphoria (feeling high). Problematic opioid use can occur when someone takes a drug that is not prescribed to them, takes too much or takes the drug at the wrong times, or takes an illegally produced or obtained product.
Fentanyl is a prescribed drug that can be used according to a doctor’s instructions. Compared to other substances, it is cited as being 100 times more powerful than morphine, and 50 times more toxic than heroin.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) state that fentanyl is being imported and sold illegally in Canada. It can be mixed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine, and can be used in tablets made to look like prescription drugs.
Overdoses have occurred where individuals were not aware they were consuming fentanyl. It is odourless and tasteless, and therefore hard to detect. Unintentional exposure by touching or inhaling pure fentanyl can cause serious illness including death.
Fentanyl can be in powder, pill, liquid, or blotter (paper) form. RCMP states that 2 milligrams of pure fentanyl (the size of about 4 grains of salt) is enough to kill the average adult.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that fentanyl acts quickly to depress central nervous system and respiratory function. Other drugs in this class include fentanyl analogs, such as acetylfentanyl, butyrfentanyl, carfentanil, alfentanil, sufentanil and remifentanil.
This document covers situations of first response, such as performing first aid measures or routine law enforcement duties. These situations are generally considered to be ones where exposure is minimal (where an opioid may be present but no products are visible) or moderate (where small amounts of an opioid are visible).
Further guidance for law enforcement (such as investigations and evidence collection), special operations, and decontamination is available from organizations such as:
General safe work practices include:
Low level risk involves situations where the drugs are in tablet form and less than 1 gram.
Moderate level risk involves situations where drugs are found in quantities bigger than when pre-packaged for street level distribution.
*NOTE: Wrist or arm protection may include on-duty uniform with sleeves, sleeve covers, gowns or coveralls.
**NOTE: NIOSH recommends an N, R or P100 mask in moderate “Pre-hospital patient care” and “Law enforcement routine duties” situations.
No matter which type of PPE is used, it is essential to have a PPE program in place. For more information about PPE programs, please see Designing an Effective PPE Program.
If contact is made with a suspected drug and your skin:
Health Canada lists the signs and symptoms of an overdose as those that include:
Health Canada recommends the following:
If you think someone is overdosing, call 9-1-1 right away, or your local emergency help line.
Give the person naloxone if it’s available. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse an overdose if it is administered right away. You can give naloxone while you wait for professional help to arrive.
An overdose is always an emergency. Even if someone has taken naloxone, it can wear off before the person has completely recovered from their overdose. They may need more than one dose. Always call for help.
Follow the directions in your naloxone kit and from the 9-1-1 or emergency help line operator.