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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

What exaggerated fentanyl fears mean for cops, plus, down the opioid-settlement funding wormhole

This week, we finish unpacking research into whether or not law enforcement officers face a real danger from exposure to fentanyl (odds-on answer, they don't). Plus, money from North Carolina's opioid settlement is supposed to be spent on medication-assisted treatment, except, it turns out, when it isn't.

First up, the legend of the lethal fentanyl.*

In 2017, the DEA put out a message to all law enforcement agencies, warning officers that even limited exposure to very small amounts of fentanyl could prove harmful or fatal. The problem is, science doesn't back the DEA's warning up — and the DEA later took its message down (it still lives on, though, on the Department of Justice website and YouTube).

But the sentiment took hold in local police departments and sheriffs' offices. Since then, there's been a host of videos, shared by law enforcement and picked up by news outlets, that seem to show officers overdosing after being exposed to fentanyl.

Related: What’s Really Going on in Those Police Fentanyl Exposure Videos? (NY Times)

According to some experts, these seem more likely to be panic attacks than overdoses. Those experts say the mythical danger of fentanyl — even in minute amounts — is putting additional stress on officers, and it might also discourage first responders from rendering aid to overdose victims, for fear of exposure.

*Editor's note: To be clear, if ingested or injected, fentanyl is often deadly. The stuff is 50 times stronger than heroin, 100 times stronger than morphine — so it's no joke. We're in no way suggesting it's safe.

Also this week, while we're talking about opioids, we take a closer look at Columbus County's recent decision to dedicate $289,000 from this year's allotment of opioid settlement funds to reserve 10-12 beds at The Healing Place of New Hanover County.

Under the terms of the opioid settlement, overseen by Attorney General Josh Stein, funding is only supposed to go to treatment centers that provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT). When Stein visited Wilmington last year, he was adamant about that, saying, "if you are funding opioid programs that don't offer MAT, they're not meeting the basic standard and [are] certainly not evidence-based. And so as you go forward with these opioid dollars, just understand that is a requirement of the use.”

But The Healing Place is emphatically dedicated to a faith-based, peer-led abstinence model.

So, what's going on here? To be honest, we're not completely sure.


Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.