Pat Garrett, OSSA President & Washington County Sheriff
Sheriffs overcame a wide range of challenges in 2017 as highlighted in Director Bishop’s message. I pass my thanks and admiration to our sheriffs, their teams, and our wonderful partners who worked together this year to respond to challenges and keep our communities safe.
As we conclude 2017, I call your attention to an emerging threat to public safety, to our deputies and property evidence officers. I’m referring to the threat posed by the illegal drug fentanyl and which is increasingly trafficked in our state.
What is fentanyl and why is it dangerous?
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever up to 100 times more potent than morphine and packs a heroin-like effect. Illegally manufactured and sold fentanyl is the primary driver behind a 219% increase in synthetic opioid overdose deaths in the United States between 2010 to 2015 (3,007 to 9,580 deaths) (https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/fentanyl.html).
According to DEA Special Agent in Charge Michael Ferguson (New England Office), death can follow after ingesting two grams of illegally manufactured fentanyl; equivalent to about two grains of sand. In too many cases the use or misuse of prescription opioid medications cause addiction in people who, in desperation, turn to heroin as a cheaper, more easily available alternative drug. Fentanyl is increasingly found mixed with heroin. Its deadly potency is killing people.
Fentanyl presents new dangers to law enforcement personnel. In the course of a car inventory, a search of someone in custody, or a routine field test of a powdery substance with fentanyl present can inadvertently brush fentanyl powder into the air and lead to a potentially deadly outcome if inhaled. One such close call occurred in Ohio when an East Liverpool police officer collapsed minutes after he brushed powder from his uniform shirt after making a drug arrest (http:// www.cnn.com/2017/05/16/health/police-fentanyl-overdose-trnd/index.html).
Naloxone to the rescue.
When administered soon after a potentially deadly encounter with an opioid like fentanyl, naloxone is extremely effective at immediately countering the effects. Paramedics administered naloxone to the Ohio officer who fully recovered.
Sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders are responding to the threat in several ways. First, education materials and messages are alerting our men and women to these new dangers. Second, law enforcement, fire, and medical first responders are increasingly carrying Naloxone to counter fentanyl’s effects. Some agencies are discontinuing field testing certain types of suspected illegal drugs in favor of waiting until a properly equipped crime laboratory can safely conduct the test in case fentanyl is present.
Our long-term response must focus in four areas.
First, this new danger demands our continued commitment to countering illegal drug trafficking into and across our state. Whether it’s through a local interagency team or a task force designated under the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/high-intensity-drug-trafficking-areas-program), many successful examples exist today where sheriff’s offices work with our state and federal partners to counter the sale and distribution of these poisonous, deadly, illegal drugs.
Second, we have to do all we can to prevent a new generation of opioid users through education and more rigorous prescription practices. Andrew Kolodny, an opioid policy expert at Brandeis University, stated it well, “For people who are addicted, you want the treatment to be much easier to access than prescription opioids, heroin, or fentanyl” (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/1/15746780/opioid-epidemic-end).
Third, we have to increase security along our southwest border and at all national ports of entry, whether land, sea or air.
No matter your opinion about recent events, the growing conflicts between federal and state law clearly puts Sheriffs in a very difficult and risky position regarding jail operations and federal immigration enforcement. Sheriffs will continue to work to build trust with all of our communities and at the same time work with all our law enforcement partners as we follow the law and conserve the peace.
This priority is simply a response to understanding the trafficking routes of heroin and fentanyl into our country. According to U.S. State Department Specialist William Brownfield in his July 2017 remarks about illegal drugs in the United States, “Listen, when I talk about the current crisis, I say it’s not just opioids: it’s opioids, it’s heroin, and it’s fentanyl. Now, most of the opioids that are consumed here in the United States are, in fact, domestically produced and then diverted into the black market. However, nearly 100 percent of the heroin that is consumed here comes from outside of the United States. The overwhelming majority, like 95% of that, from Mexico. Moreover, the fentanyl, which is taking what is already a crisis, and turning it into a mega-crisis, overwhelmingly comes from outside the United States as well, in this case largely from China” (http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/07/31/us-opioids-heroin-fentanyl). According to the Congressional Research Service 2016 report on heroin trafficking in the United States, “Mexican transnational criminal organizations are the major suppliers and key producers of most illegal drugs smuggled into the United States. They have been increasing their share of the U.S. drug market, particularly with respect to heroin.” The study also concluded the bulk of heroin smuggled into the United States transits across the Southwest border of the country. (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44599.pdf)
Lastly, we must all throw our support behind our brave deputies, police officers, and state troopers who keep our communities safe even though doing so places their well-being at risk in new ways. Their commitment to service honors and humbles me. Closing out 2017 as the OSSA president, I ask you to thank a deputy at your next opportunity, and do all you can to ensure your sheriff’s office is adequately funded so they can best protect their community and themselves.
Sheriff Pat Garrett President, OSSA