Source: Jill Harmacinski // The Eagle Tribune
HAVERHILL — Last summer when three men overdosed — two of them fatally — in Lawrence, police, paramedics and firefighters immediately responded. But hours later, after testing done by a state police lab revealed fentanyl was involved, a professional service was called in to sanitize the second-floor apartment at 194 Garden St. before it could be inhabited again.
The company called was Trauma Services, which specializes in biohazard clean-up.
As the region remains in the grips of an opioid epidemic, 24 is being tapped all over the state for fentanyl cleanup services.
Fentanyl, a manmade opioid at least 50 times stronger than morphine, can be toxic to someone merely in its presence, according to experts. That creates a danger for police officers and firefighters who are often the first to respond to drug overdoses and can administer Narcan, a lifesaving medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. Trauma Services recently provided free training to local first-responders on how to prepare for and safely respond to fentanyl overdoses.
“I’ve worked with law enforcement for a long time and they often don’t get the training or equipment they need,” said Michael Wiseman, Trauma Services’s chief executive officer.
Trauma Services has scrubbed a variety of crime scenes throughout New England, including Boylston Street after the Boston Marathon bombing.
A week ago, a conference room at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill was packed with local first-responders training on how to handle fentanyl. Among them was local resident and retired Massachusetts State Police Detective Lt. Michael Holleran, formerly of the crime scene services division, who now spearheads Trauma Services’s training.
“The fentanyl we see is made in a pharmaceutical lab,” warned Matthew Gutwill, a Framingham police officer and drug expert who also was among the trainers Friday.
Using a Powerpoint presentation, news articles and photographs, Gutwill spoke for more than two hours. Statewide, heroin-related deaths are decreasing while the presence of fentanyl in these fatalities is on the rise, according to information provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
More and more frequently, local police said overdoses are fueled by fentanyl.
Last week in Methuen, two overdose victims were revived with multiple doses of Narcan. Both individuals later told police they had used fentanyl, said Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon.
Gutwill, in his training presentation, advised responders to use extreme caution around fentanyl. Pointing to a news article, he spoke of an instance where a man overdosed on fentanyl and then his mother went in to clean his apartment and she also overdosed.
He told the group when they get calls “for a person down … be very careful because it could have been fentanyl.”
After responding to an overdose call and administering Narcan, Gutwill said he will often wait around for about 15 minutes before getting back in his cruiser.
“Because if it’s going to hit me, it’s going to hit me in that 10- to 15-minute window,” he said. “If you think you’ve been exposed in any way … get the help. Go to the hospital. Don’t be the person to get into your car and drive off,” he said.
After an overdose occurs, Trauma Services has technicians and equipment that can neutralize the fentanyl and remove any trace of the substance.
Wiseman said the company, which has roughly 90 employees and five offices statewide, has a seen a rise in fentanyl-related calls in the past 10 months.
The company uses a product called Dahlgren Decon to neutralize fentanyl. “We’ll go in and treat every surface,” he said, adding that the process can be time consuming and labor intensive.
The cost for cleanup varies and is based on time and materials needed, he said.
“This has changed society as we know it,” said Wiseman, who has been involved in biohazard cleanup for 30 years. “This is a whole new ball game.”