Home Interviews THMG086 – Fentanyl, Part III: Interview with Dr. Christina Baxter

THMG086 – Fentanyl, Part III: Interview with Dr. Christina Baxter


In this episode, we speak to Dr. Christina Baxter about the highly publicized drug fentanyl. Dr. Baxter takes us through the history of fentanyl, scientific studies conducted on skin exposure, myths surrounding fentanyl intoxication, and proper cleaning procedures. Please reference our show notes for key questions answered during this episode.

Dr. Christina Baxter
Dr. Christina Baxter is the Program Manager for the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) subgroup at the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG).  TSWG is a program element within DoD’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO). The TSWG CBRNE subgroup works closely with the interagency user community from all levels of Government and with various international partners to provide timely solutions in the areas of CBRN attribution, protection, detection, consequence management and information resources. She is currently the chairperson of the NFPA Hazardous Materials Protective Clothing and Equipment Technical Committee and a member of the NFPA Technical Correlating Committee on Fire and Emergency Services Protective Clothing and Equipment, the NFPA Technical Committee on Hazardous Materials Response Personnel and the ASTM International Technical Committee on Protective Clothing (F23).  Christina is also a member of the InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability.  She has over 19 years of Fire and Hazmat experience.

Complete Show Notes

1:30 Introduction to Dr. Christina Baxter

  • Has worked in the hazmat field for 25+ years
  • Experience working with fire departments
  • PhD in chemistry
  • Worked at the Department of Defense to combat terrorism technologies
  • Interest in hazmat based upon an environmental chemical perspective – wanted to determine the hazmats in her hometown’s watershed and how they correlated to cancer

3:10 Background on Fentanyl

  • Amazing drug that was developed for cancer patients – it covers breakthrough pain and offers a slower release than drugs like morphine
  • First work on fentanyl was to develop a patch – it must be enhanced to move through the skin
  • It took years for scientists to determine the correct dose for fentanyl to be absorbed at an effective rate
  • Now, fentanyl is frequently mixed with cocaine and heroin on the street for lower prices – doesn’t move through the skin quickly
  • Intoxication via inhalation is far more common than intoxication via transdermal (virtually impossible)

8:55 Hazard-Based Approach to Fentanyl

  • Studies show that even if your hand is pressed against pure fentanyl for 15 minutes, it won’t pass through the skin quickly enough to cause intoxication
  • Fentanyl and its analogs are considered hazards, but they take a lot of time to go through the skin
  • Emergency responders should wear protective suits and shower as soon as they’re back at the station
  • Buyers on the street obviously can’t be put in a suit and gloves
  • Level A protection is recommended when taking down a clan lab
  • Only two large labs have been reported as production labs (located in Seattle and Massachusetts)
  • Other large labs are milling facilities – bring in fentanyl from China, Canada, and Mexico and mill it into a sellable mixture (i.e. pressing it into a pill)
  • Many different types of protective suits available

17:45 Decon of Fentanyl

  • Some companies say their products kill fentanyl, which is impossible – these products actually oxidize it
  • Wash your hands, shower, and change clothes as soon as possible
  • No benefit from bleach
  • Peracetic acid is your best option – you’ll need a solution that’s at least 4.5% active to oxidize and break down fentanyl in under two minutes
  • Peracetic acid acts like hydrogen peroxide but offers double the strength

22:00 Where Fentanyl is Coming From

  • Pure fentanyl can be purchased for $5,000 per kilo from China
  • Fentanyl also comes into the United States from Canada and Mexico
  • Can be shipped in via UPS and FedEx since it’s not logistically possible for them to open every single package

25:15 Cleaning Up Fentanyl

  • Hazmat suits should be cleaned with a solution that’s at least 5% peracetic acid
  • Equipment should also be cleaned with a solution that’s at least 5% peracetic acid
  • Overdose patients should be cleaned up with something like Dahlgren Decontamination Solution
  • Don’t put free chlorine on your PPE
  • Pool cleaner also destroys fentanyl, but it can be very dangerous if it makes contact with your PPE
  • Fentanyl becomes explosive when it’s near hypochlorite

28:00 Best Practices to Protect Yourself from Fentanyl

  • Spray Dalghren Decon onto your suit with an electrostatic sprayer
  • Then, shower and change clothes
  • Always protect your airway and minimize any skin contact
  • Take a risk-based approach if there’s prolonged exposure, heat-stress issues, or if businesses are shut down and there’s an economic impact as a result
  • Safety is always the number one priority

32:00 Future of Fentanyl Epidemic

  • DEA is working with the Chinese government to limit the production of certain materials that go into the production of fentanyl – making these substances illegal so they can prosecute offenders
  • As a result, however, more people are making the ingredients that go into fentanyl on their own
  • The number of production labs also goes up as the rules tighten
  • Aniline is the main precursor necessary to make fentanyl
  • Dr. Baxter has 35 base fentanyl recipes (32 of these recipes require aniline)
  • There are also several ways to make aniline
  • Essential for responders to understand the risks of fentanyl, know what to look for when they enter a lab, and to choose the proper PPE for any given situation
  • Go with science!

35:25 Find Out More!

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