Skin Exposure to Fentanyl Doesn't Cause Overdoses, Officials Say

Skin Exposure to Fentanyl Doesn't Cause Overdoses, Officials Say

News Nov 10, 2017

Nov. 09—Can you really overdose from touching a shopping cart handle?

An Arkansas Police Department warned shoppers in a Facebook post to always wipe down grocery carts to avoid contacting fentanyl.

Since it was posted Wednesday, the item was shared more than 100 times, but people are starting to question the legitimacy of the warning, quoting a Snopes.com story saying that the claim that you can ingest fentanyl through skin contact is unproven, though possible.

Black-market fentanyl, the most deadly and popular kind, comes in the form of white powder, according to Snopes. The DEA recently warned that this kind of fentanyl can be "absorbed through the skin or eyes, any substance suspected to contain fentanyl should be treated with extreme caution as exposure to a small amount can lead to significant health-related complications, respiratory depression, or death," according to a press release warning first responders of the dangers of fentanyl.

The news release was issued after an Ohio police officer claimed he overdosed on the powdery substance while working on a drug bust and coming in contact with fentanyl.

However, medical professionals and toxicology experts from Harvard University, the University of Toronto, and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston all raised major concerns about that claim, according to reporting by Slate and Vice News.

"Neither fentanyl nor even its uber-potent cousin carfentanil can cause clinically significant effects, let alone near-death experiences, from mere skin exposure," wrote Jeremy Samuel Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.

In July, a 10-year-old Miami boy died with fentanyl in his system hours after he visited a public swimming pool, according to the Miami Herald. CNN and NBC both reported that it was suspected the boy died from touching fentanyl. But later, experts said it was "highly unlikely" given the timeline of how quickly he became sick and died.

"Fentanyl can take up to 24 hours to fully absorb through the skin," Miami Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Craig Radelman told the Miami Herald. "Absorption through the skin is a very, very slow method."

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's 30-50 times more potent than heroin and 50-100 times more powerful than morphine, according to the DEA. It was originally developed to treat cancer pain. From 2016 to 2017, more than 20,000 people in the U.S. died from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which was double the amount of deaths from 2015-2016, according to the CDC.

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