The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued new guidance to help protect healthcare workers from exposure to non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, according to Safety and Health Magazine.
Fentanyl is an opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. NIOSH reports that exposure can result in symptoms that include the “rapid onset of life-threatening respiratory depression.”
Nurses, physicians, therapists and other workers can be exposed to the drug during patient care. The exposure routes that are of greatest concern include inhalation of powders of aerosols, mucous membrane contact, ingestion, or exposure through a break in the skin.
NIOSH offers a few work practices to protect healthcare workers from dangerous fentanyl exposure:
- Establish open communication between the hospital and EMS workers to help quickly determine the likelihood of fentanyl exposure
- When first encountering a patient, healthcare personnel should assess the risk for hazards and determine whether the presence of illicit fentanyl is suspected
- Do not eat, drink, smoke or use the bathroom in an area with potential fentanyl exposure
- Do not touch the eyes, mouth or nose after touching a potentially contaminated surface
- Wash hands or other exposed skin with soap and water immediately after potential exposure. Do not use alcohol based cleaners, as that could increase absorption through the skin
NIOSH also specifies what training healthcare workers need to receive including education about the potential exposure routes, how to recognize potential opioid exposure, when and how to use Personal Protective Equipment, and when and how to decontaminate a patient.
Additionally, NIOSH outlines the necessary PPE that healthcare workers should have:
- At least an N100, R100, or P100 disposable filtering face piece respirator
- Face and eye protection that may include goggles or a faceshield
- Powder-free nitrile gloves
- Wrist and arm protection that cover the skin
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