An Ohio police officer suffered a serious fentanyl overdose after accidentally touching the substance while responding to a drug-related call, officials said.
East Liverpool Police Officer Chris Green responded to a traffic stop on Lisbon and West 8th Streets, where the driver of a blue Monte Carlo, identified as 25-year-old Justin Buckel, had allegedly performed a drug transaction just before 9 p.m. Friday, Police Chief John Lane told InsideEdition.com.
When Buckel and passenger Cortez Collins, 24, realized they were being stopped, the pair allegedly tried to get rid of the evidence that officials believe was fentanyl, Lane said.
“They [the suspects] rubbed it into the carpet, ripped bags open, got in on their clothes, their shoes,” Lane said. “There was white powder everywhere.”
After arresting the men, Green and his fellow officers followed station protocol for handling drugs by wearing gloves and a mask as they searched the car for evidence, authorities said.
Then they went back to the station, where another officer noticed Green had white powder on his shirt.
“They’re sitting there talking, decompressing... and someone said to him, 'You got something on your shirt.’ He brushed it off and they went back to talking,” Lane said.
But Green’s condition quickly deteriorated, and he eventually fell unconscious in an suffering an apparent overdose after coming into contact with the powder on his shirt.
“He said, ‘I don’t feel good,’ and passed out,” Lane said.
Green was given one dose of Narcan at the police station, and then an ambulance rushed him to a local hospital, where he was given three additional doses of Narcan, officials said.
Though his condition has since improved, Green was still recovering from the incident as of Monday.
“I know he’s been having headaches; his chest is hurting, he said it feels like someone kicked him in the chest,” Lane said.
Though Green’s experience was life-threatening, it could have been far worse, Lane said.
“Think about this,” he said. “Nobody sees that on his shirt. He leaves and goes home, takes off that shirt, throws it in the wash. His mom, his wife, his girlfriend goes in the laundry, touches the shirt — boom. They drop. He goes home to his kid. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ They hug him — Boom. They drop. His dog sniffs his shirt, it kills his dog. This could never end.”
The incident is a harrowing reminder of the dangers first responders are exposed to when dealing with an American drug epidemic that has left some Ohio communities crippled, including Columbiana County and the city of East Liverpool, officials said.
“It hasn’t gotten any better,” Lane told InsideEdition.com, remarking on the issues the area has faced since his department first made headlines for sharing photos in September of a stoic child sitting in the backseat of a car as his grandmother and her boyfriend overdosed on what was believed to be heroin.
“What are we supposed to do with this? You can’t have an officer doing that [search] by himself. He can go home and die. It’s just the smallest amount that can kill, like a granule of sugar — or if it gets airborne, it can kill more than one person,” Lane said.
Buckel and Cortez were both charged with tampering with evidence and remained in custody at the Columbiana County Jail Monday, online records show.
They allegedly told police that the substance in the car had been cocaine, but after a field test showed that not to be the case, the men said it was fentanyl.
The substance was removed from the scene and packaged for lab testing. Based on the results of that testing, the men could face further charges, authorities said.
“These guys were telling [the police] it was cocaine, they lied,” Lane said. “They’re not concerned with the other people who use that car. They throw it out to get it away from them; they don’t care about a kid who could find it in the grass. It’s insane.”
In combatting the issue, Lane said the fight needs to start in schools, where children need to be educated on the dangers of these drugs, the legislative levels to increase the penalties connected to these drugs and on an outreach level to help those grappling with addiction.
“We just don’t have the resources to do it,” he said.