Sheriff says deputy hospitalized over weekend was exposed to fentanyl
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham has confirmed it was exposure to fentanyl that prompted first responders to rush one of his deputies to a hospital over the weekend.
The deputy, whose name has not been released, was on duty and conducting a traffic stop when he was exposed to the drug.
The law enforcement officer initiated the traffic stop Saturday afternoon near Montgomery’s Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, located off Eddie Tullis Road.
Cunningham said the deputy was conducting a search of the man who was pulled over when the deputy was exposed to fentanyl. Cunningham said the deputy was wearing gloves during the search, but at some point they believe the powdered substance became airborne and the deputy unknowingly inhaled the drug.
“It’s just the dust, and that dust can get airborne, and it can get into your nostrils. You can die,” Cunningham said.
After the deputy collapsed, there was another deputy on scene who administered two doses of Narcan to immediately reverse the effects of the fentanyl. According to Cunningham, two more doses of Narcan had to be administered by first responders in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
“I’m just thankful that there was another deputy on the scene and the deputy that was on the scene had knowledge enough to go ahead and to get that Narcan out and to bring him back,” Cunningham said. “If he would have laid there for five or 10 minutes he wouldn’t have been here today.”
The deputy was later released from Baptist East and is now recovering at home.
The suspect arrested in the traffic stop has since been identified as Joshua Pattillo. Pattillo is being held at the Montgomery County Detention Facility on three drug charges. His initial bail was listed as $8,000 over the weekend. Monday night, jail records showed a reduced total bail of $2,500.
It’s unclear if additional charges will be pursued.
State Health Officer Scott Harris warns that someone can die or suffer the serious effects of fentanyl from accidental inhalation, but more studies need to be done to definitively determine if the drug can be absorbed through the skin.
“If it’s aerosolized, if there’s a cloud of it, you certainly can inhale that and suffer ill effects from that,” Harris said. “The part that we just don’t really have figured out is the part about just touching it, cutaneous contact, that just absorbs through your skin. That’s a really common tale that we hear told, but medically we‘re just not quite sure how that would work.”
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. While originally created to help manage pain for those undergoing cancer treatment, it’s powerful opioid properties have led to some abuse, including being added to other drugs like heroin, which the DEA says often results in overdose deaths.
“There are legitimate uses for it, but the fentanyl that people are encountering out there in the community is typically made illegally in a lab, often times in China and imported through Mexico and brought into the United States. There is just no telling what it is,” said Harris.
There is significant risk that illegal drugs have been intentionally contaminated with fentanyl. Because of its potency and low cost, drug dealers have been mixing fentanyl with other drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, increasing the likelihood of a fatal interaction.
Harris said fentanyl is becoming more prevalent in Alabama. He warns people to stay away from the drug and be aware of it’s potentially deadly impact.
“People don’t need to be around these drugs. They are dangerous, they are killing Americans every single day of the year, and we just hope people stay away from them as much as they possibly can,” Harris said.
Cunningham said they administer Narcan to people on the scene frequently, but this was the first incident where a deputy had to be treated from exposure.
Cunningham said there is no charge that exists for contributing to an officers death via exposure to fentanyl. He plans to work with state legislators to make changes to Alabama law that would hold people accountable.
The Alabama Legislature has passed a bill to make it legal to use and distribute test strips that detect the presence of fentanyl in other drugs, an effort to prevent overdoses.
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