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Carroll looking to equip officers with masks for overdose calls

Local law enforcement and Carroll's Department of Public Safety are racing the clock as they try to combat the latest trend in the heroin and opioid epidemic.

There have been accounts across the country and as close as Harford County where law enforcement officers are getting carfentanil and fentanyl into their systems because of the drug's potency while responding to overdose calls.

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As a preventative measure, the Department of Public Safety is working with local law enforcement to equip them with better masks and more gloves for when they respond to overdoses.

Deputies with the Carroll County Sheriff's Office already have heavy-duty gas masks that they use in riot situations, Sheriff Jim DeWees said. But the masks are bulky and hard to put on while trying to respond to a call, he said.

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Larry Hogan announced a set of proposals Tuesday designed to curb heroin and opioid drug addiction.

Instead, the deputies and other law enforcement will be equipped with N95 masks.

The Department of Public Safety is working to make sure every sworn officer in the county is given the appropriate protection, said Doug Brown, emergency management coordinator.

The N95 masks are smaller face protection that have a better filtering system than a typical dust mask a person might use when doing construction in their home.

"You have to breathe a little harder to get air through the N95 mask because the filtering is better," Brown said.

Fire companies are already equipped with the masks and the proper equipment, Brown said.

Right now, some masks have been distributed and the department is working to place a bulk order. Once the masks come in, they'll be given to the officers, he said.

While carfentanil has "accelerated" the movement for getting protective equipment, it was something law enforcement was already working on, DeWees said.

"This is sort of a proactive approach to it," he said.

Brown said the department is constantly working on getting the proper equipment to deal with the environment in which officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and other first responders have to work.

"So we've always looked at this as a critical need," Brown said.

They started looking at changes in protective equipment as early as the 2000s during the anthrax scare, he said.

The department is also working on a set of protocols for officers, Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding said.

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In the first two months of 2017, Carroll County has seen five deaths due to unintentional heroin overdoses, a number not reached in 2016 until May.

His officers have already been equipped with the N95 masks and they double up on rubber gloves, Spaulding said.

But he is waiting on the protocols to determine if they need to change what they carry or change their behavior when responding to overdoses, he said.

Brown confirmed that the department is working on protocols, but they are not formalized yet.

On the fire and emergency medicine personnel side, Union Bridge volunteer fire company spokesman Perry Jones said all precautionary measures are being used.

"We're using every method available," he said.

There is a possibility of new protocols coming for the emergency medical personnel, he said, but added that those would be determined by the ambulance association, which meets monthly.

Once the association meets, they will likely bring their recommendations before the Carroll County Volunteer and Emergency Services Association, Jones said.

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