November 11, 2021

New Fentanyl Detection Standards Have Emergency-Response Applications

Three new fentanyl detection standards published in July by ASTM International are intended to help protect first responders in the field, according to a news release published on Oct. 14 by the U.S Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). First responders encounter synthetic opioids at an “alarming frequency,” says S&T. According to NIOSH, emergency responders are likely to come into contact with illicit drugs, including fentanyl, during routine job duties. S&T provided funding and subject matter expertise for the recently published standards, which address the field detection of fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds. These standards will help provide first responders with “more robust detection capabilities that will better inform and protect them from hazardous substances they encounter in the field,” explains Dr. Rosanna Anderson, who leads S&T’s program for opioid and fentanyl detection.

Standard specification ASTM E3243-21, the first of the three standards, provides system designers, manufacturers, integrators, procurement personnel, end-users, practitioners, and responsible authorities a common set of parameters to match the capabilities of chemical detection tools with user needs for their specific application. ASTM E3289-21, Standard Guide for Using Equipment and Assays for Field Detection of Fentanyl and Fentanyl-Related Compounds, provides information on the optimal use and limitations of assays and instrumentation designed to detect fentanyl and related compounds. And standard test method ASTM 3290-21 describes a procedure for characterizing the performance of field portable fentanyl detection equipment and assays when using test samples and statistical considerations described in standard specification ASTM E3243-21.

“The ability of first responders to identify fentanyl, its analogs, and other synthetics drugs using reliable equipment, verified through standardized methods…enables them to effectively plan and conduct operations while simultaneously increasing responder safety,” S&T’s news release states.

NIOSH’s website outlines recommendations, including standard safe operating procedures, to help prevent emergency responders’ exposures to illicit drugs, including fentanyl. The agency urges responders to wear nitrile gloves when illicit drugs may be present; wear respiratory protection if powdered illicit drugs are visible or suspected; and avoid performing tasks or operations that may cause illicit drugs to become airborne. A NIOSH-developed toolkit for first responders provides additional information and training resources in this topic area.

Related: A video published in March 2019 by NIOSH is intended to help emergency responders understand the risks of exposure to illicit drugs and communicate what they can do to protect themselves on the job. Read more in a news article published in the May 2019 digital Synergist.