Police Grapple with New Threat: Exposure to Illegal Drugs - NBC Bay Area
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Police Grapple with New Threat: Exposure to Illegal Drugs

"This is something that's kind of a new frontier for us, that officers are going to be threatened by something that they don't even see"

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    Fredericksburg Police Grapple with Threat of Hidden Drugs

    Police in Fredericksburg, Virginia, are grappling with the hidden threat of illegal drugs found at the scenes they respond to. Exposure to some drugs can even threaten officers' lives. News4's David Culver reports. (Published Friday, March 8, 2019)

    When Fredericksburg, Virginia Police Officer Jonathan Piersol and Detective Paul Chewning answered an emergency call from a motel in April 2018, they expected the usual threats.

    "We're trained to watch the hands, watch for a threat," Chewning said.

    The two were summoned to help by Courtney Burrows who said her husband, James, was struggling to breathe after an apparent drug overdose.

    "At the time I didn't even think there was a risk to me. I thought I was there to help somebody," Piersol said.

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    (Published Tuesday, July 16, 2019)

    But during that response, the two didn't realize they were being exposed to a dangerous illegal drug the entire time they were helping the Burrows, showcasing the latest concern for police departments handling situations where illegal drugs are present.

    "We didn't know until at the end of this there was a white powder all over every surface inside that room. We couldn't see it, it was dark inside," Chewning said.

    While securing the scene and waiting for a search warrant, the two were unknowingly breathing in what was likely the drug Fentanyl.

    "I don't even know if the word high is the correct term, you felt under the influence of something," Chewning said.

    Two of the four officers were treated with Narcan, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

    The police department has now issued every patrol officer and detective two Narcans to use when helping a drug user or to use on themselves or another officer.

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    Fredericksburg Police Chief David Nye said the nearly invisible threat presents a new range of dangers for police officers.

    "This is something that's kind of a new frontier for us, that officers are going to be threatened by something that they don't even see," Nye said.

    His department is now preparing a training video to assist other law enforcement agencies across the country with the hope of teaching officers how to avoid the hidden danger that illegal drugs can pose.