By Maggie O’Neill

The health, and even lives, of first responders are at threat when they enter a home where drugs are being cut with dangerous synthetics.
That’s because new synthetics, such as fentanyl, are now on the street. About eight months ago, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued alerts that street manufacturers were cutting heroin with fentanyl, but more awareness than that is needed, according to Daniel Gonzales, sergeant of the special enforcement team (SET) with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office.
Fentanyl, a synthetic with the consistency of baby powder, can be hard to distinguish from other substances. Residue remaining on a uniform or even on protective gear could lead to a contact high, difficulty breathing, nausea or even an overdose in a first responder.
“You see a bag of dope and you can’t just assume it’s meth,” said Gonzales.
Awareness was an issue that was hammered home at a recent class in Carson City called “Avoiding the Chemical Bullet.” More than 40 people, including first responders, attended.
Speaker Robert Pennal, a retired special agent supervisor with the Office of the Attorney General, California Department of Justice, talked about the need to be aware of the new synthetics and the types of protective gear and procedures to consider during response.
“Being trained to go into a meth house and a hash house are very different,” said Hannah McDonald, community outreach coordinator with Partnership Carson City, which funded the event with block grants and a small marijuana grant.
She said Partnership Carson City tracked down a speaker after a deputy approached the non-profit expressing a desire for more education after he entered a hash house full of butane oil. Carson City Juvenile Probation Officer Mike Rapisora attended the event with other first responders.
“I thought it was important to know the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs,” he said. “The stuff is so potent and dangerous right now that if you breathed any of it in, it’s stuff that could kill you.”
John Arneson, acting deputy chief-in-charge of operations for Carson Fire, said that the threat could mean carrying higher-dose injectables to treat people who have overdosed.
“It really is a safety issue for anyone coming into contact with this,” he said. “And it’s not just fentanyl, but fentanyl is a pretty big deal right now.”
Gonzales said the presentation made him aware of the need to improve protective gear for his team, but also to consider updates to operational protocol. This includes wearing goggles when entering a home on a search warrant or sending drugs out to a lab for testing.
“You can’t just do business as usual, as it used to be,” he said.