By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The spread of a dangerous synthetic drug is posing new dangers for first responders.

The death toll is soaring as Maryland and the nation cope with an opioid epidemic.

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Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler has issued a new public safety alert on Carfentanil.

Some called I-95 the heroine highway, and Gahler says a lot of the opioids are coming from outside the area and posing an increasing risk to those on the front lines of responding to emergencies.

More powerful synthetic drugs are hitting Maryland. They’re so dangerous police officers are afraid to touch them.

That’s changing the way they do their jobs.

“That’s a whole new dynamic for our police officers here in the county, for our EMS personnel,” said Gahler.

Sheriff Gahler issued a public safety alert after recording the first overdose from carfentanil, a painkiller that is deadly to humans, used to tranquilize large animals.

Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

Authorities released a picture that shows the difference in those drugs. It shows the heroine, fentanyl, carfentanil it would take to cause overdose.

Courtesy of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.

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“The size of a grain of salt would be enough to cause overdose and take your life,” Sheriff Gahler said.

It can be absorbed through the skin or in the air. That’s why police here no longer test drugs in the field.

In Ohio, officer Chris Green was searching a car when he found a powdered substance.

He patted down the suspect without gloves, and when he got back to the station, he overdosed. It took four doses of the antidote, NARCAN, to revive him.

“When you hear about these stories, you think ‘That’s all on TV. That’s not going to happen to me.’ This drug doesn’t care who it kills,” said officer Green.

In Harford County, deputies used to carry one milligram doses of NARCAN, and now they carry four milligram nasal sprays needed to quickly revive people who overdose on the more powerful drugs, in case one of the officers is exposed.

“As long as this stuff is on the street, our men and women, our first responders, are going to be bumping into it,” said Chuck Rosenberg, with the DEA. “And it’s extraordinarily dangerous for them.”

The sheriff says he is targeting the dealers, the distribution networks, and it’s not just here.

Howard County police announced they made seven arrests in recent weeks involving heroine distribution.

There have been 160 overdoses in Harford County this year. 34 people have died.

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