The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has released a new Master Question List (MQL) for Synthetic Opioids. The MQL is a reference guide to assist emergency responders and the research community by providing critical and scientifically-vetted information about the chemical and physical properties of synthetic opioids and the hazards they pose in operational settings. The resource summarizes what is known about opioids, so experts can quickly find knowledge gaps and identify solutions, and first responders have on-hand guidance based on current scientific understanding to protect themselves from opioid exposure. Opioid drug overdose deaths in the U.S. are at a record high as new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies fentanyl as the leading cause of more than 100,000 deaths over the past year.
“The CDC data confirms that America’s synthetic opioids epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time, poses significant hazards to emergency responders, and requires a whole-of-government response,” said Kathryn Coulter Mitchell, DHS Senior Official Performing Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “That is why we have pulled on every lever of our organization to develop a resource with the best scientific knowledge available to keep emergency responders safe.”
Synthetic opioids present unique and significant challenges to first responders. The compounds are highly toxic, deadly, and aerosols may remain at the scene well after responders arrive. This creates a challenge to develop safe decontamination protocols, effective personal protective gear and detection equipment.
S&T’s Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC) and the Office of Mission and Capability Support’s Opioid Detection Program collaborated with the Hazard Assessment and Characterization Technology Center (HAC-TC) and the Probabilistic Analysis for National Threats and Hazards and Risks (PANTHR) to develop the Synthetic Opioids MQL. The CSAC lab serves as a national knowledge and resource center for chemical threats and hazards. Related efforts delivered through CSAC include knowledge products used for detection and interdiction of illicit opioids, including a Fentanyl Synthesis Quick Reference Guide, and the Chemical Agent Reactions Database (CARD), featuring extensive data related to more than 2,000 chemical reactions designed to help law enforcement authorities identify harmful chemicals and what “chemicals of interest” could be produced from them.
“Until synthetic opioid abuse is eradicated, we’ll continue to do everything in our power to provide useful scientific insights that when used as best practices, can keep our operators in the field as safe as possible,” said Jessica Cox, S&T CSAC Program Manager for the MQL. “This work can save lives, and we will continue to do our part to counter the abuse of synthetic opioids which have devastated communities across the country.”
The Synthetic Opioids MQL currently focuses on synthetic opioids commonly found in the illicit drug trade. DHS S&T will update the MQL periodically as new knowledge becomes publicly available.