Recently a postal worker from Manitoba discovered a woman unconscious in the lobby of her building. She wasn’t breathing. The postal worker called 911 and was instructed to begin CPR. However, the worker believed she had overdosed and was afraid that the white powder on her shirt was fentanyl.

The question of what to do in situations like these comes up often in first-aid courses and the answer is that the safety of the person offering assistance always comes first.

If contact with drugs is a concern, the first responder should use gloves or wear an artificial respiration mask. There is also the option to just do chest compressions.

In another situation, a police officer in Ohio experienced just how potent fentanyl can be. When he searched a vehicle that contained fentanyl powder, he took all the proper precautions. He wore a mask and gloves. Later, he noticed some white powder of his uniform and naturally he brushed it off. An hour later, he passed out and an ambulance was called. Fentanyl was absorbed into his skin when he went to brush it off his uniform. That minuscule encounter was enough to cause him to overdose.

It can take as little as 2 milligrams (the equivalent of two grains of salt) of fentanyl to cause an overdose or even death.

Historically, Oxycontin has caused the most deaths, but in 2015 Fentanyl took the number one spot for deaths caused by opioid overdose. In Ontario, fentanyl overdoses have grown to become the third leading cause of accidental death.

In the case of the postal worker, it is completely understandable that he would choose to withhold CPR. In cases like that, the desire to help is there but there is also a very legitimate fear. Fentanyl and drugs like it – carfentanil – are everywhere and extremely dangerous.

Remember this:

Do not do anything that you aren’t comfortable with. Make sure you put your safety first. If there is a real possibility that fentanyl is present, you need to protect yourself.