Hazmat situation shows dangers of synthetic drugs for first responders

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Four first responders were rushed to the hospital over the weekend after a Hazmat situation. It happened Saturday night on the city's near west side when EMS and police were responding to an overdose call.

Hazmat crews said the suspect dropped a powerful synthetic drug, believed to be fentanyl, on the floor of the ambulance. Three EMS workers and one police officer are out of the hospital after minor exposure to the drug.

The case is highlighting the dangers first responders face when going to any call, but especially overdose calls. Many of the dangers, including situations like this one, are new experiences for highly-trained EMS workers.

Dr. Dan O'Donnell is the medical director for Indianapolis EMS and the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD). He said when responding to calls, the number one priority of EMS is to treat the patient, but lately, crews have been dealing with new and dangerous challenges on the job.

"It is a serious consideration out there as there are more and more synthetic narcotics out there that have unknown potency or super potency," Dr. O'Donnell said.

First responders now have to assess the scene of an overdose and determine if it's safe to treat the patient in the place where they passed out.

"It's not just a matter of come in, see the overdose, treat the patient. Now, they have to be aware, look around, what could they be exposed to?" asked O'Donnell.

With higher potency of drugs, first responders are asking for the help from residents. They're asking people to stay on the scene of an overdose and explain what drugs the person took.

"As much information as we know, that makes us more effective in providing care to you. Just be honest with us," said O'Donnell.

In August, the CDC released nationwide guidelines for first responders going to overdose calls. You can find more information here.