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Guardsmen, First Responders Partner to Fight Synthetic Opioids

February 28, 2018

Soldiers from the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 43rd Civil Support Team joined with area first responders here Feb. 20-22 for a “micro lab” training course designed to teach them how to handle lab investigations and entries safely and effectively.

Network Environmental Services Inc., a company out of Folsom, California, trains military and civilian first responders across the country on safe measures and procedures in dealing with chemical and physical hazards presented by the illicit synthetic drug trade, using a combination of classroom and hands-on training to familiarize them with technical chemical terms and to see firsthand the processes drug dealers use to create the products they sell on the street.

The company’s instructors are police officers, former Drug Enforcement Agency employees and chemical experts.

Fentanyl Exposure

Michael Cashman, an instructor and retired DEA employee, “said fentanyl exposure is one problem first responders face.

In the last several years, law enforcement agencies have seen a dramatic increase in the availability of dangerous synthetic opioids, a large majority of which are derivatives of fentanyl, a synthetic analgesic 80 times more potent than morphine. The presence of synthetic opioids in the illicit U.S. drug market and the potency of these drugs has led to a significant increase in overdose incidents and overdose-related deaths throughout the nation.

“Fentanyl is not just a police problem, or a [civil support team] problem. It’s everyone’s problem,” Cashman said. “We are seeing more and more fatalities from fentanyl exposure. The goal of this training is safety. We want to make sure that when these guys enter a situation and see evidence of fentanyl, they know what to do.”

The class reinforces what to look for to recognize and reduce the dangers of fentanyl exposure for first responders. Since fentanyl can be ingested orally, inhaled through the nose or mouth, or absorbed through the skin or eyes, any substance suspected to contain fentanyl must be treated with extreme caution as exposure to even a small amount can lead to significant health-related complications, respiratory depression, or death.

New Threat Environment

Army Lt. Col. James Bowling, the 43rd CST commander, coordinated the training with local first responders and civilian partners to increase his team’s readiness to respond in multiagency civilian incidents.

“The threat environment has changed,” he said. “What we are seeing is that homemade explosives, weapons of mass destruction, hazardous materials, and even clandestine lab processes often look very much the same and have a lot of the same ingredients and precursors. What this training does is increase our situational awareness. When the CST and our civilian partners respond to a call, we have to know what to look for to ensure everyone’s safety.”

“Providing this level of specialized training for our Civil Support Team and civilian law enforcement partners is critical during an incident response,” said Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, South Carolina’s adjutant general. “These soldiers are on the front lines every day safeguarding our communities. Therefore, their safety is a top priority.”