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Ohio Officer Likely Didn't Overdose On Fentanyl Just By Touching It, Say Experts

"It's really, really difficult to imagine," said one toxicologist.

07/06/2017 12:54 EDT | Updated 07/06/2017 12:59 EDT
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Bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, are displayed before a press conference at the office of the New York Attorney General on Sept. 23, 2016 in New York City.

An Ohio police officer made international headlines after he reportedly overdosed on fentanyl just by touching the substance — but some experts doubt that's even possible.

Officer Chris Green, who works in East Liverpool, Ohio, told CBS News in May that the substance somehow got on his clothes after he helped arrest two men on drug charges.

There was white powder on the floor of the car they were in.

Green told the Morning Journal that back at the police station, someone noticed a substance on his shirt. He then wiped it off with his fingers.

"I started talking weird," he told the Morning Journal.

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A box of the overdose antidote Naloxone Hydrochloride sits on a counter at a Walgreens on Feb. 2, 2016 in New York City.

"I slowly felt my body shutting down. I could hear them talking, but I couldn't respond. I was in total shock. 'No way I'm overdosing,' I thought."

He then fell to the floor. A total of four doses of the overdose drug naloxone was needed to revive him.

Toxicologist David Juurlink, the University of Toronto's head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology, told CBC's As It Happens that he doesn't think Green is lying about his episode.

But he said "it's really, really difficult to imagine that transient exposure of the skin to fentanyl would cause someone to overdose."

"Maybe his finger ended up in his mouth, or who knows? But we do know that fentanyl is absorbed much more easily across mucosal surfaces like the mouth than it is through the skin," he said.

"It's really, really difficult to imagine that transient exposure of the skin to fentanyl would cause someone to overdose."

Juurlink told As It Happens that Green may have panicked when he thought that he might have come into contact with a drug.

Fentanyl is incredibly potent — just three milligrams can kill an adult male — but physician Jeremy Faust wrote in a piece for Slate that even if Green accidentally inhaled or ingested some of the drug, the quantity that made it from the car still likely wouldn't be high enough to cause an overdose.

In his piece, Faust interviewed several medical and toxicology experts, all who said the likelihood of a skin-contact overdose was unlikely.

He also questioned why Green needed four doses of naloxone, which is far more than is usually required.

"...Loss of consciousness that does not respond to multiple doses of naloxone is likely not to have been opioid-related at all," he wrote.

'I don't feel comfortable'

Juurlink said he's voicing his doubts about Green's story because he's worried that first responders might be hesitant to help people who are overdosing without full-body protection.

A Winnipeg mail carrier told CBC News in May that he refused to do CPR on an unconscious woman lying in a building's lobby because he saw "white stuff" on her shirt.

"I'm like, 'I don't feel comfortable,'" he said he told a 911 emergency services worker over the phone.

The worker kept instructing him to do CPR, but he waited until the ambulance arrived.

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