A highly produced video about the dangers of fentanyl released by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department last week is being criticized as doing more harm than good.
The video, which went viral, seemingly was intended to show the dangers of the opioid and educate people about the importance of the drug Narcan, but some doctors, researchers and experts in drug abuse disorders say the video amounts to misinformation that is only adding to the hysteria.
The video starts with Sheriff Bill Gore telling people that what they are about to see is “traumatic body-worn camera footage” of a deputy exposed to fentanyl during his patrol shift. The incident, which the video says took place July 3, shows a deputy trainee finding a white substance that tests positive for fentanyl. He is then warned by his supervisor not to get too close. When the trainee collapses, the supervisor gives him Narcan, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, and the trainee is revived.
“It just didn’t feel right, didn’t sound right,” said Gretchen Bergman, the executive director and co-founder of A New Path, an organization aimed at reducing the stigma associated with substance abuse disorders and drug use.
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A New Path advocates for therapeutic, rather than punitive, drug policies.
Bergman said there are no known cases of airborne fentanyl overdoses and that the trainee would not overdose by simply touching it.
”He had gloves on,” Bergman said. “But even if he had gotten it on his skin, he would have had to take his hand to his mouth or nose. It doesn’t seep into your pores.”
Bergman questioned whether the trainee had, in fact, overdosed or, possibly, was experiencing something other than an overdose.
Bergman worries that misinformation contained in the video may deter first-responders and others from stepping in to help, afraid of getting too close to fentanyl and the person who is overdosing.
“This is heavy stuff, and it’s important we get it right, and put the truth and facts out there correctly so it doesn’t add to unnecessary hysteria that might dissuade someone from coming forward and saving a life,” Bergman said.
Bergman said she is glad that the message that fentanyl is dangerous is getting out there, especially since other drugs on the street are being laced with it. She also approved of the sheriff’s department's using Narcan and first-responders carrying it with them. She said there is also an important message to be had about Narcan.
“Here’s the silver lining of this: It shows that Narcan is such a safe drug that, even if you think someone is overdosing on an opioid and it turns out that’s not what they’re overdosing from, and you give Narcan, you can’t hurt them," Bergman said. "It’s that safe.”
On Monday evening at about 8 p.m., the sheriff's department released the following statement:
On August 5, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department released a public safety video related to the dangers of Fentanyl. We have received inquiries into the authenticity and accuracy of the video message. The video was created from an actual incident involving our deputy as he processed a white powdery substance that tested positive for Fentanyl.
In the interest of transparency, we are releasing the following documents:
- Incident reports
- Lab results from the white powder
- Computer-aided dispatch report from the incident (call for service record)
We will be releasing the unedited body-worn camera video from the incident within this week.
You can find the previously issued news release here.
Click here If you would like to learn more about Narcan and how to get it.