Police can test substances at state crime lab after concerns about exposure to fentanyl

MADISON — Wisconsin police officers now are able to test unidentified powders at the state crime lab after concerns were raised about exposure to a lethal drug called fentanyl.

State Attorney General Brad Schimel has allowed officers to use facilities in Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau that are equipped with fume hoods and emergency doses of an overdose reversal drug, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

While most large police departments have similar equipment, smaller departments can benefit from the use of state facilities, Schimel said.

A Menasha officer nearly overdosed on fentanyl Sunday while attempting to save a man who had overdosed on the synthetic pain reliever. Menasha Police Chief Tim Styka said the man didn't have drugs or drug paraphernalia on him, so there wasn't an immediate concern about drug exposure.

However, the officer realized something was wrong 15 minutes later while he was driving on the highway. He radioed for help and was able to receive two doses of the overdose reversal drug from a Winnebago County sheriff's deputy.

Several officers across the U.S. have had near-fatal experiences after coming in contact with fentanyl, which can be 50 times stronger than heroin. It can be absorbed through the skin, and as little as 2 milligrams of it can be deadly.

Earlier this year, the state attorney general's office recommended officers wear gloves and goggles when testing drugs, have another person present and have a dose of an overdose reversal drug available.

Fentanyl abuse has risen in the past few years. In 2012 there were more than 600 seizures of the drug nationwide. In 2014 there were more than 4,500 seizures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.