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New protocols for first responders in Milwaukee County amid growing Opioid epidemic

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- There are new recommendations for keeping first responders safe when they're called out to the scene of a possible drug overdose.

So far this year, the Medical Examiner says there have been 271 confirmed drug overdose deaths in Milwaukee County alone. There are 80 cases still pending. According to the Office of Emergency Management, the report is another indicator of the growing epidemic of opioid use.

On Monday, Michael Martin, a Forensic Investigator, answered the call for a potential overdose of two men at the Potawatomi Casino Hotel. Officials found an unknown powdery white substance in the room. Martin suspects Fentanyl was in it so the room had to be cleared and all responders had to wear extra protective gear.

"Those are things you don't want to breathe in, you don't want to get on your skin as much as possible so when I was on scene...just a couple things, arm sleeves, shoe covers, face respirators," Michael Martin said. 

First responders also carry Narcan. Not only for patients but in case they accidentally ingest some of the drugs as well.

"I think because of its potency, it's availability to the community, it's addictive properties. I think this is going to be something that we are going to be dealing with for a long time," said Dr. Ricardo Colella.

Dr. Colella is tasked with implementing safety measures and training the county's EMS providers. He also works closely with law enforcement agencies.

While Fentanyl is used in medical settings and given to cancer patients for severe chronic pain, the kind often detected in drug overdose cases is coming from the streets where it is mixed in with other drugs.

"Fentanyl is added which increases the potency without a lot of costs and not a lot of bulk," Sara Schreiber, Forensic Tech Dir. for the Milwaukee County ME Office said.

It makes it even more dangerous for drug users.

"It's risky to the user in the end because they don't know therefore they don't know how to adjust the dose that they're used to taking to account for the increased potency of the drug they are being subjected to," said Schreiber. 

The Milwaukee County's Office of Emergency Management says they're confident in the steps they're taking to train and keep first responders safe from exposure to opioids. They say the most dangerous situations are when they come in direct contact with drug labs. 

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