MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Narcotics enforcement is dangerous, not just because of the violence that often comes with it but because of possible exposure, Captain Michael Salomonsky said Tuesday.
WHNT News 19 spoke with him after a story this week about an Ohio officer who accidentally overdosed on fentanyl by absorbing it through his skin. According to reports, the officer had been making a drug arrest following a traffic stop when he encountered the drug. Later, he noticed some white powder on his shirt and brushed it off without thinking, the reports say. It got him very sick.
Salomonsky said he is aware of those risks.
"You can take it in and then it has the same effects on your body as somebody who did it intentionally," said Salomonsky. "But the law enforcement officer didn't do it intentionally."
He continued, "That's just the dangers of being a law enforcement officer."
Salomonsky explained that officers can not plan where they will be dispatched, or what they will encounter there. An officer may not always know he or she has encountered a drug until it is too late, since many drugs can be odorless, colorless, and appear benign but actually be deadly.
"We had a situation where methamphetamine labs were using anhydrous ammonia," said Salomonsky. "It looks like water, but if you get it on you or breathe it, it will burn you up. It's a fertilizer." He continued, "All it would look like to you is water until you got close enough to it for it to hurt you."
He said the other hidden danger is many drugs are not easily identifiable. Often, drugs like heroin are laced with others. A field test or lab test is the only way to tell what they really are.
"Here's the problem. You have to look at it, and to look at it you have to get close enough to see it which can be harmful," explained Captain Salomonsky. "And if you want to field test it, you have to have a field test available and then you have to field test it," he said. "You never know what you're handling."
Deputies say they keep Narcan, an opioid antidote, in evidence rooms and controlled places where someone could become exposed. But they don't think it's practical to stock Narcan in the field because the drug needs to be kept in specific conditions. But in the field is where officers often encounter the dangerous drugs. And officers can not control the environment in which they will find those drugs.
Salomonsky gives this advice to new deputies working narcotics cases: "Always be mindful of where you're at. Be mindful of the people that you're dealing with. And understand that nothing is certain."
He added, "It's not always bullets knives, and guns that kill. It could be something you're exposed to."