Side event: Handling dangerous opioids: Keeping our officers safe!

Organized by the Governments of Estonia and Finland, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Laboratory and Scientific Section.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, UNODC: Frontline officers are often exposed to potent substances, such as fentanyl. Important to protect them.

H.E. Toomas Kukk, Permanent Mission of Estonia, Vienna: Estonia and Finland are close nations. Estonia is one of the countries most affected by fentanyl. Seen waves of analogues. Managed to keep our officials safe. Many drug addicts have lost their lives. Utmost priority for us to make sure necessary knowledge and measures are in place for officers to do their jobs and stay safe at all times. Looking forward to today’s demonstration.

H.E. Pirkko Hämäläinen, Permanent Mission of Finland, Vienna: Advocate of important role of drug analysis laboratories and their work. Provide information on prevalence of drugs in new research areas, like wastewater analysis. Concentrating on emergence of potent opioids and tools to cope with the problem. Address possible harms drug users are facing. Also need to keep law enforcement officers and other professionals safe. Need training and proper equipment. Had to rethink guidelines on handling suspicious substances in the field in Finland. Concentrating on safety at work today. Application of new technologies will save lives. Congratulate UNODC laboratory for excellent performance.

Stephen D. McConachie, Chief Customs and Border Protection Officer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection: In 1988, fentanyl analogue (colloquially known as China White) was causing many overdoses. After that, fentanyl mostly disappeared. As recently as four years ago, law enforcement in US were not aware of this substance. Since then, increase in knowledge and fear among law enforcement. US agencies put out a one-page guidance document with safety recommendations for first responders dealing with fentanyl. Challenge with fentanyl is we don’t know what it is until a laboratory identifies it. When we make seizures, the substance is unknown. Caution that while fentanyl is on our minds, it accounts for only 2% of seizures at international mail facilities. Video on fentanyl produced. Shows appropriate protection commitment and use of policies. Naloxone used for officers and canine partners. Lots of stories about exposure and immediate assumption that it was fentanyl. Often a cannabinoid, methamphetamine, or simply fear. Need to embrace the science on drug chemistry. 800 unique substances detected last year. More drugs we need to be aware of. Rely on our scientific and laboratory colleagues. UNODC puts out a disposal guideline. We need to be doing more, better, and smarter law enforcement. Cannot let fear drive our actions.

Yen Lin Wong, Scientific Affairs Officer, Laboratory and Scientific Section, UNODC: Giving a demonstration on practical ways to handle and dispose of potent substances, like fentanyl. Different levels of exposure depending on drugs present on the scene. Personal protection must be catered to exposure risk. Should carry at least one naloxone kit. Using a Raman device for field identification of drugs. UNODC provides training in our laboratory and in the field. [Demonstrations at booths for interested delegates.]

Justice Tetty, Chief, Laboratory and Scientific Section, UNODC: Last year we had the first of such events and it was very popular. Thank you to Finland and Estonia. Thanks to my staff. We see so many opioids on the market. We know some of these are very potent. People are panicking in the streets. One message I want you to take away: this is not the time for officers to be afraid. With appropriate safety gear, they are in a good position to safely handle these opioids. Non-intrusive technologies allow for analysis without coming into contact with substances. There are ways to dispose of the substance to leave the environment in a better way that we found it.

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