RICHFIELD, OH (WOIO) - Ohio leads the nation in opioid death overdoses.
Every year, hundreds of people overdose on strong substances like fentanyl and its many dangerous variations.
That drugs put local law enforcement on the front lines of the crisis, and potentially in the path of danger.
On Thursday, the State Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation met with over a hundred officers, telling them how to safely deal with possible contamination in the line of duty.
"They're tasked with keeping our community safe, and if they're not safe themselves, that puts them at risk," said BCI Laboratory Supervisor Jessica Toms. "Making sure that they're able to continue to do that and send them home safe to their families, is very important."
Fentanyl and its derivatives are highly potent, hundreds of times more powerful than morphine. Although they aren't likely fatal through touch alone, they can be absorbed into mucus membranes, including your eyes and nasal passages.
"It's what they did to their hands afterward that can create an issue, whether they rubbed their eye or ate a cookie or sandwich or something, that can introduce it into their system as well," Toms said.
She spelled out several cases of law enforcement officials and first responders becoming sick after exposure to opioid drugs, including two EMTs.
"One of them started driving, and after he started driving, started to feel the affects. They actually had to stop the vehicle in the middle of the road and get treatment at that point in time," she said.
More than 400 officers took part in the seminar.
The BCI isn't just telling law enforcement to take extra precautions around these drugs. They're doing it, too. They now use full body suits and masks while testing the drugs in their lab. They also keep the overdose antidote Naloxone within reach.
"All of that's new," said BCI Forensic Scientist Marty Lewis. "In the last year or two, there were the requirements with the masks. We didn't even have masks before. we now even keep Naloxone in the laboratory, just for us, in case something happens."