Misinformation about the risk of overdose from accidentally inhaling or touching fentanyl is common among first responders and the general public in the United States. While the risk is very low, and there has never been a confirmed case, officers consistently report that they are at great risk from overdose through accidental contact in the course of their duties: A recent survey polling first responders in New York state found that 80 percent believed that simply touching fentanyl for a short period of time could result in death (Persaud & Jennings, 2020). This misinformation can be harmful to individuals with substance use disorder (SUD), as it perpetuates stigma and a reluctance to engage with the SUD population, and can negatively affect the rapid deployment of overdose reversal medication.
2021 Study on Correcting Officer Perceptions of Fentanyl
A 2021 study led by Dr. Brandon del Pozo of Brown University and published in Health and Justice examined the effectiveness of a training intervention to correct fentanyl misinformation, Safety and Health Integration in the Enforcement of Laws on Drugs (SHIELD), among Indiana police officers. The SHIELD training program educates law enforcement officials about harm reduction and occupational safety, and delivers information about needle stick injuries, officer mental health, and the public safety benefits of harm reduction programs and addiction treatment, and provides a 10-min module about fentanyl exposure. Three SHIELD trainings were conducted for Indiana police officers from winter 2020 to summer 2021. These sessions were led by a former police officer to maximize credibility and present material in ways that would resonate with officers’ knowledge and experience. The results of this study confirmed that a brief training on the minimal dangers of fentanyl exposure had a corrective effect on police officers’ beliefs. The study also suggests that the creation of a training video on this topic digitally administered to police officers could be an effective strategy for correcting misinformation.
- Training had a corrective effect on police officers’ beliefs about touching fentanyl.
- Police officers who earned a college degree were significantly less likely to see risk from fentanyl than those who did not.
- Patrol officers were significantly more likely to perceive fentanyl risk than those in other roles.
- There were no differences by age, race, gender, length of service, or prior fentanyl-related training.
What this means for future interventions
This training intervention supplies police officers with correct information about the risks posed by accidental contact with fentanyl. By conducting more interventions like SHIELD, jurisdictions can promote a more effective and targeted public health response to the opioid crisis. This research emphasizes the importance of encouraging evidence-based decision-making in evaluating individual and collective threats to health among police officers.
Access the full article, “Can touch this: Training to correct police officer beliefs about overdose from incidental contact with fentanyl”, here: https://healthandjusticejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40352-021-00163-5
del Pozo, B., Sightes, E., Kang, S. et al. Can touch this: training to correct police officer beliefs about overdose from incidental contact with fentanyl. Health Justice 9, 34 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40352-021-00163-5.
Persaud, E., & Jennings, C. R. (2020). Pilot study on risk perceptions and knowledge of fentanyl exposure among New York state first responders. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 14(4), 437–441. https://doi. org/10.1017/dmp.2019.95.
Winograd, R. P., Phillips, S., Wood, C. A., Green, L., Costerison, B., Goulka, J., & Beletsky, L. (2020). Training to reduce emergency responders’ perceived overdose risk from contact with fentanyl: Early evidence of success. Harm Reduction Journal, 17(1), 58. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-020-00402-2.