Police say the drug landscape is changing. Very dangerous substances are becoming more commonplace, posing risks for those responding to an overdose or drug investigation.
The biggest concerns recently are synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, the latter of which can be 500 times more potent than heroin. Some dealers cut heroin with these substances to get a stronger effect. Carfentanil can cause a lethal overdose after being exposed to just 0.02mg of it. The powder substances have the potential to become airborne and be inhaled accidentally.
With the potential of these being out in the field, police have to step up their safety protocols to adapt.
"When we have officers in the field conducting searches or processing it as evidence, it's extremely dangerous," said Captain Jason Melby of La Crosse Police.
Knowing that can even have psychological effects.
"The anxiety of knowing that we can be exposed to it certainly can play into the effects that you might feel," said Nick Eastman, Clinical Supervisor with Tri-State Ambulance.
Packages of drugs from a scene are now opened in a new $3500 fume hood in the La Crosse Police's lab. They use test kits to determine what they are dealing with before vacuum sealing them twice and sending them to evidence. Two officers must be present in case of an emergency where Narcan would need to be administered. Captain Melby would not say if any officers in La Crosse have needed to do so, but referred to a case in Waukesha where state patrol needed to use Narcan on a deputy exposed to fentanyl during a traffic stop.
"We don't want to have it where we have an officer sitting in our evidence room laying there unconscious and have to dose them with Narcan to bring them back to life," Melby said.
These safeguards help protect the officers, but those who aren't lucky enough to have those precautions are still in danger.
"We're going into houses and seizing these drugs and there's kids in these houses," Melby said. "There's exposed needles in these houses and there's children running around. These chemicals are present in our community and being sold and people are dying from them. That's more alarming."