EAST LIVERPOOL, OH (WFMJ/CNN) - The epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction sweeping the nation is becoming increasingly deadly, fueled by the apparent rise in the illegal use of the powerful painkiller fentanyl.
The drug threatens the safety of police and first responders.
That hazard became clear Friday night when a police officer was hospitalized.
Undercover officer Chris Green accidentally overdosed on what is suspected to be fentanyl and carfentanyl after he helped arrest two men, Justin Buckle of East Liverpool and Cortez Collins of Cleveland.
"Chris is a big, strong guy. He's an ex-MMA fighter. He's 225 pounds, all the muscle, and it overtook him just like that," Captain East Liverpool Police Patrick Wright said.
When the suspects were pulled over, police say they hurried to destroy the drug evidence, smashing the suspected deadly drugs into the carpet of the car.
"Officer Green does a great job, and it was just a freak accident that he would accidentally bump up against something while he was searching this vehicle, and for him to drop out like that is shocking," Wright said.
Within minutes of returning to the police station, Green began to feel the affects of an opioid overdose. Officers called 911 as soon as he passed out.
He got one dose of Narcan at the police station, then he was taken to East Liverpool City Hospital where he was given three additional doses of Narcan.
Fentanyl and carfentanyl contain a substance used in tranquilizing elephants.
Wright says most people think they are using heroin.
"You know, heroin kills hundreds of thousands of people a year throughout the United States. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin; carfentanyl is a thousand times stronger than that," Wright said.
He says fentanyl and carfentnyl are so deadly police officers are taking more precautions when responding to these calls.
"We have kits in our vehicle that... we have gloves, bags. We double bag all our evidence that we don't know what it is any more because of the threat of fentanyl and carfentanyl. We have masks so we don't inhale anything. We have safety goggles so it doesn't absorb through our eyes," Wright said.
He said the department no longer field-tests drugs for fear they might inhale a deadly substance.
"If you really think about this, these weapons could be used as a weapon of mass destruction," Wright said. "All you have to do is walk into any room, flip it in the air, and people are going to start dropping out."
Green is expected to recover.