The Need for Nitrile Gloves in the Fight Against Fentanyl

The number of overdoses in the U.S. is growing at an astonishing rate. In 2017, it was estimated that 1.7 million people suffer from substance disorders. As deaths related to the opioid overdose continue to grow, it has reached the point that it is now a leading cause of the decline in life expectancy of Americans. In 2021 alone there were more than 75,000 killed due to overdoses – more than the American death rate during the Vietnam War.

As the epidemic continues to grow, there are more and more threats appearing that we never thought of before. Now EMS, police, firefighters, and even family members who could come across an unknown substance may be at risk.

In a time where first responders need to worry about drug exposure every time they approach a scene, it is reassuring to know that protection equipment and precaution measures have improved. As the drugs on the market continue to grow strong, accidental exposure is a real threat.

Understand the epidemic at hand and how important proper protection is when responding to a situation where drugs or unknown substances are present is vital.

The Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is not necessarily a new topic in our country. Since the late 1990’s, there has been an increase in the use of opioids such as heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl. The introduction to these drugs can be traced back to misleading theories that they were not an addictive pain management solution. Something we know now to be untrue.

Since the addictive nature of these products have come to light, there is a conscious effort by medical professionals to decrease the amount of drugs legally prescribed. Although efforts are being made to reduce access to legal opioids, the increase in illegal drug use will continue to fuel the opioid crisis.

Fentanyl Exposure Precautions

Anyone working in law enforcement, fire or emergency medical services needs to be aware of the potential dangers of fentanyl exposure. Unintentional contact with the drug can result in overdose symptoms for the responder. It could happen when an EMS is treating an overdose victim, a police officer is searching a home, or any other situation where the drug could be present.

Inhalation of airborne powder is the most dangerous way to be unintentionally exposed to the drug, but it can also be transferred by skin contact. If you were to get fentanyl on your hands or gloves without realizing, you could accidentally rub your eyes or nose and it could become even more harmful.

There are precautions that can be taken to lessen the chances of accidental exposure. This includes wearing the proper protection equipment when responding to a situation where drugs could be present, or carrying naloxone, a drug to help reverse overdose effects. Being prepared for any situation that fentanyl could show its face is vital to ensuring the safety of first responders.

Protect Yourself Against Fentanyl

With the opioid epidemic expected to continue and grow in the coming years, it is important to know what the proper protection equipment should be used. If you took a look at the supplies inside of an ambulance, you will be sure to find a few specific staples:

  1. Naloxone
  2. Respiratory protection
  3. Eye protection
  4. Nitrile gloves

Each of these precautions provide protection from accidental exposure, but the nitrile gloves are often one of the most used items of the list. If there is even the slightest possibility that drugs could be the cause of the emergency or in the vicinity, nitrile gloves should be worn.

Nitrile Gloves: Protection for Those Protecting You

Nitrile gloves are three times more puncture-resistant than latex or vinyl gloves. This means when an EMS worker is at the scene of an overdose, the chances of their glove breaking and accidental skin contact happening is less likely. The gloves also provide an additional layer of coverage to a workers’ wrist and arms due to extended cuffs.

Another scenario where nitrile gloves provide extra protection would be when a police offer is performing a search – whether it be a car or a home. The benefit here comes from the fact that nitrile gloves are available in black. This is useful to officers in this situation because they may touch a substance and not even realize that it is on their hands. With black gloves, it is easier to see a light substance on their hands.

Moving Forward During an Epidemic

As we come to understand and address the opioid epidemic in the United States, it’s important that first responders have the tools they need in the fight against opioid overdoses. As drug use has risen sharply in the last 20 years, anyone who could potentially have contact with fentanyl will need to prepare themselves. The use of respiratory protection, nitrile gloves, naloxone and other protection products will remain a necessity in all medical, emergency, and unknown situations.  

Having access to products like nitrile gloves will protect you from accidental exposure to fentanyl or any unknown substance and will give you piece of mind.

Article originally published March 6, 2019 and updated for accuracy and relevance.

Jay Rhodes


Jay Rhodes
Jay Rhodes, Supplier Relations at Wesco, has over 20 years of experience in personal protective equipment (PPE) in industrial safety. Prior to joining Wesco in 2016, Jay’s previous experience was in third-party testing, manufacturing and product development and industrial safety distribution with a singular commitment to safety.