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Police training targets dangerous street drug amid wave of overdoses

A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington, Va.
A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington, Va. AP

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department announced Wednesday new efforts to protect officers responding to drug busts amid rising state and city wide trends of overdose deaths.

One drug, fentanyl, has CMPD concerned due to its lethality and its increasing popularity. When laced with heroin, cocaine and sometimes marijuana, CMPD said it creates a powerful high that is 50 percent more addictive. When contacted in the skin, it can cause heart problems, respiratory issues and can eventually lead to death.

CMPD said there have been 62 overdose deaths since January in Mecklenburg County. Toxicology reports have confirmed 12 cases related to fentanyl.

In the first 70 days of the year, 42 percent of those deaths involved fentanyl. Statewide, fentanyl deaths have risen from 29 in 2014 to 156 in 2016, according to the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Sgt. Katherine Scheimreif, who works with Crime Scene Investigations, said she has trained 200 officers to properly deal with these cases, and said her department is actively trying to prepare officers.

“We’ve gotten to the point now where we can’t take chances,” Scheimreif said. If an officer makes a traffic stop and there may be crack cocaine, they’ve been instructed to hold the scene until we can collect it.”

Fentanyl is absorbed through mucous membranes, inhalation and skin contact, making it just as deadly for officers tasked with collecting the drug as users themselves. CMPD demonstrated that officers will wear protective suits with masks and double gloves as precautionary measures whenever they arrive at a potential drug scene.

Scheimreif said this training and caution is essential in order to lighten the load off of her department. If more officers are trained, she said they’ll able to properly handle the situation themselves, which will expedite the crime scene. Because of that, she said the training will continue.

“They're immediately being trained to put this outfit on to protect themselves,” Scheimreif said. “Our goal, rather rapidly, is to get the rest of the police department to be trained. It’s very important that we protect them.”

North Carolina will receive $31 million in federal funding in order to combat drug related issues over the next year.

“This is not just a local issue, Lt. Travis Pardue said. “We have to be ahead of the curve.”

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