Bipartisan push to protect first responders from fentanyl focuses on new technology

Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 7:47 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The opioid epidemic continues to take a toll across the country and here in Northeast Ohio.

Fentanyl has become a top killer.

It is now the most commonly used drug involved in overdoses.

The powerful synthetic opioid is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Exposure to the drug has become another risk first responders face on the job.

Now some senators and congress members are trying a new approach to protect first responders.

19 Investigates recently spoke with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D- OH) from his office in Washington D.C.

“This is a serious public health problem that we kind of put aside during the pandemic. It’s got to be front and center when it comes to mental health and addiction and death,” Sen. Brown said.

Sen. Brown is working across the aisle to protect first responders from exposure to fentanyl.

The Protecting First Responders from Secondary Exposure Act aims to provide more resources to first responders on the front line of the opioid epidemic.

The bipartisan legislation was co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R- Iowa).

Rep. Dave Joyce (R- Ohio) originally introduced this legislation in the U.S. House during the last session of Congress.

Rep. Joyce recently reintroduced the bill again with Rep. David Trone (D- Maryland) and then companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate.

First responders can encounter the powerful drug through skin contact, but inhalation is the most dangerous risk.

Containment devices can protect them from that exposure and preserve the drugs as evidence for criminal prosecutions.

So how do they work?

They’re not actual containers like you may be picturing.

19 Investigates found a company with local ties that makes one of these devices.

TruBLOC LLC calls their containment device “bloc.”

First responders can wear it on their belt, almost like a canister of pepper spray.

Once they deploy it, a mist sprays that contains the suspicious powder.

The company says it prevents cross-contamination and inhalation.

“The mist contains an orange dye, which alerts emergency personnel to the presence of potentially dangerous substances,” a video on their website explains.

TruBLOC says the mist is non-flammable and does not prevent forensic analysis.

The creator of this local containment device calls them “next gen PPE” for first responders.

They cost about $30 each for the canister and holster.

The Protecting First Responders from Secondary Exposure Act would help local and state agencies get federal grants to buy containment devices like these.

The bill would also provide training to first responders to reduce their risk of secondary exposure.

“It’s a dangerous enough life anyway, but we should do things we can do to protect them. And this is one of the bills we can do one of the kinds of protections we can build in for them and we need to keep pushing,” Sen. Brown said.

Several first responder unions support the act, including the International Association of Fire Fighters and Fraternal Order of Police.

Last December, similar legislation passed providing drug-containment devices and training to frontline U.S. Border Patrol agents.