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Handling hazardous materials

The world is an uncertain place and, although we here in Eastern Ohio generally feel safe as we go about our daily lives, anything can happen at any time.

That is why sessions such as the one held Wednesday at the Belmont County Emergency Management Agency headquarters are so important. There, representatives of local law enforcement, emergency response organizations and area schools learned about the dangers of a sudden, widespread fentanyl exposure.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It often is mixed with illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine and frequently is found in powdered form. Accidental exposure can be harmful or even fatal, as dozens of people learned while responding to an incident at Ross Correctional Institute in south central Ohio last year.

People who reacted when an inmate collapsed in his cell were exposed to fentanyl and experienced symptoms. As more people rushed in to help, more were exposed. And, because decontamination did not take place on site, there were concerns about additional exposure once patients reached the hospital.

In response to that incident, Belmont Correctional Institute Warden David Gray organized the educational session held last week. He wanted to help ensure officials in our area were prepared to respond appropriately if such an incident were to occur locally.

Many of the participants said they learned a lot and that they need to take additional steps to prepare for such a scenario. But all people, not just first responders, need to be aware of these dangers and know how to protect themselves while helping others.

The fact is hazardous materials are all around us every day. Here in our region, all sorts of dangerous chemicals are transported over our major state and interstate highways at all hours of the day and night. Drug traffickers use those same routes, and they distribute their illegal products throughout our communities.

We urge local police, fire and emergency medical personnel to take as many steps as possible to prepare to deal with hazardous materials incidents. Specialized equipment may not be practical or affordable for every agency, but ensuring that personnel are well educated and informed about the matter is important.

We also encourage area residents to become informed on the topic and to take precautions if called upon to render aid before a qualified first responder arrives on scene. Rushing in to help without protecting yourself might just create an additional emergency.

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