I have had the privilege of helping the Drug Enforcement Administration develop and deliver 28 High Hazard Clandestine Drug Lab Training Classes which require the use of fully encapsulated Level A Suits. What is a high Hazard Clan Lab? It is an illegal drug lab which the final products or precursors can be fatal if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
There are many opinions for determining the type of personal protective equipment to be worn for tactical entry, sampling and processing of a potential high hazard drug lab. As a certified Hazardous Materials Specialist and Manager, these are only my professional opinions and do not represent official Drug Enforcement Administration Policy.
Fentanyl and Carfentanyl are the drugs that are getting the most attention, but LSD and PCP can also be extremely hazardous for first responders. Drug dealers have been making millions of dollars by adding micrograms of fentanyl to heroin to increase its potency. The results have been a sharp increase in overdoses and deaths. Most of the pure fentanyl is mailed in from China and Mexico but fentanyl labs and milling operations are expected to increase over the next decade.
So how can we keep our officers, agents and first responders safe? In my 25 years of responding to chemical spills and cleaning up hazardous waste sites, the answer is always the same “Safe Work Practices” and the use of proper “Personal Protective Equipment”.
Safe Work Practices
Treat all suspected drug materials as if they can kill you if you touch it or inhale it.
Minimize direct contact with the material and limit air flow which could potentially aerosolize the material.
Always use what’s called a dry decon method of systematically removing protective clothing.
Avoid field testing and send suspected fentanyl directly to the nearest DEA or forensic lab for verification.
Personal Protective Equipment
The minimum protection for handling drug material is chemical gloves, a tyvek suit taped at the seams and a N95 dust mask.
For tactical entry into a suspected drug house, wear a chemical suit, gloves, boots taped at the seams with a self-contained breathing apparatus.
Processing of a High Hazard Clan Lab should only be performed by persons that are certified in the use of Level A fully-encapsulating suits.
Tactical Entry – In my opinion always use an SCBA for tactical entry into a potential High Hazard Drug Lab. Obviously practice, practice, practice at the range is required to become proficient with any type of face piece. Once the entry area has been secured, the DEA should be notified to determine if a Level A trained team is required for sampling and processing.
Collecting Evidence – Small samples of liquids should be properly packaged and sent to the lab for processing while the entire finished product of any powder should be double bagged and placed in an evidence bag and then into a DOT approved container. If the evidence is more than a kilogram, a DOT approved container should be placed in a pelican case in the trunk of the vehicle and then transported directly to the nearest lab for testing. Always contact the State or DEA Labs for instructions prior to using the U.S. Postal Service.
Whenever you are dealing with fentanyl, several doses of Narcan should always be available with EMS standing by for any accidental exposures. Thank you for your service and please stay safe.