Arlington police officers sickened by heroin smoke exposure

KING 5's Heather Graf reports.

Three Arlington police officers had to be rushed to the hospital after being exposed to heroin that was likely laced with fentanyl.

The officers are expected to be okay, but the incident is highlighting a risk to first responders who are fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic in Snohomish County.

"It's not just in this area, it's across the country," said Kristin Banfield with the City Of Arlington.  "It's something we are getting daily intelligence reports from across Washington and across the United States, reports of heroin laced with fentanyl.  Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin.  You can absorb it through your skin, and the absorption is very quick.  So it's very scary for our officers."

The three officers showed up at the Arlington Motor Inn on Monday to serve an arrest warrant. 

Banfield says the man they were looking for was not at the motel.  But when the officers entered a second-floor room, they came face to face with a woman who was allegedly smoking heroin and trying to avoid arrest.

"Right in front of our officers, which is a felony," said Banfield.  "Then she started blowing the smoke everywhere towards our officers.  So our officers quickly detained her, one of our officers actually tackled her and was able to get the heroin away from her."

The officers, two men and one woman, then arrested her and returned to the police department in Arlington.

About 30 minutes later, it was clear something was wrong.

"They started exhibiting symptoms of exposure, direct exposure to the heroin smoke," Banfield said.  "So they started experiencing nausea, headaches, just feeling very lethargic and sluggish and then they started getting violently ill."

The officers were rushed to nearby Cascade Valley Hospital for medical evaluation and decontamination.  They were released from the hospital on Monday evening and have since returned to work.

The Arlington Police Department believes the heroin they were exposed to was laced with fentanyl.  Tests are underway to confirm exactly what the drug contained.

The officers' workstations, uniforms, and patrol cars all had to be decontaminated as well.

Meanwhile, motel management is working closely with the Snohomish Health District.  They've shut down the motel room involved until health officials deem it safe.

The room will have to be cleaned and tested before it can re-open.

"My message to the community is that we are working with the police department and the health department, and whatever instructions they give us we will follow those instructions," said motel manager Leela Devi.  "We will not rent that room out until we are completely done cleaning it."

Devi said it saddens her to know just how bad the heroin and opioid crisis is getting.

"I was stressed out and got scared that the police officers were sick and hospitalized.  It was really scary for me.  This has never happened to be before with ten years experience in hotels," she said.  "I hope we can work together and get rid of this problem, which is not good for the community."

According to the Washington State Department of Health, fentanyl killed 70 people in this state in 2016.  It's considered much more deadly than heroin.

Although fentanyl and heroin are often mixed, health officials say drug users are usually unaware of the combination, which makes it even more dangerous.

As a result of this incident, the Arlington Police Department is now looking into additional protective gear, to keep their officers safe.

'We're very thankful are officers are doing okay," said Banfield.  "We were very fortunate in this particular case. Anytime we make entry into a building like that, you don't know what we're going to see on the other side of the door."

© 2017 KING-TV


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