The Local News Hung Up On Me For Asking If They Asked a Doctor Whether You Can Die From Touching Fentanyl
You can't. But if you could it'd make great TV!
It was relatively easy to get the news director of KCTV5 in Kansas City on the line. I am just putting that here for the record, if you happen to be a Kansas City resident. There’s a phone number on the website.
It was not easy to get the news director of KCTV to answer a pretty simple question. A few days ago, the station put out a very dramatic story about a police officer’s seeming brush with death. The headline was: “‘I knew I was dying’: How 5 rounds of Narcan possibly saved KCK police officer’s life.” The “possibly” is pretty important there, because in reality, an overdose would’ve been stopped by one round of Narcan, and a fentanyl overdose is exceedingly unlikely to occur from incidental physical touch. If that was how it worked, that is how users would ingest it, and first responders suffering from effects of exposure would stop breathing, not get short of breath. This is all pretty basic stuff that ER doctors and nurses and medical experts of various stripes attempted to share in the responses to KCTV5’s official account and the account of the lead reporter of the story, to no avail.
In response to the blowback to the story, the station added an editor’s note. Oddly, the clarification did not address a single one of the actual expertise-based criticisms of the story. Instead, it quoted the police (again) and the Drug Enforcement Administration, a federal law enforcement agency that was, not coincidentally or ironically, one of the original sources of the idea that a beat cop’s life is endangered in the mere presence of an opiate that hospital workers handle daily.
The podcast I co-host for The New Republic did an episode about police and fentanyl last year. I encourage you to listen to it and read the work of our guests. But to summarize our conclusions: What seems to be happening in this video from KCTV5 can’t happen, physically. The officer is experiencing not an overdose but something else—he is not necessarily “faking” or “lying” and may indeed be in real distress from actual, tangible fear; but it is not the fentanyl.
So I emailed the station, and shared the link to our podcast episode, along with a few other links to some academic studies making clear that what was depicted in this segment wasn’t consistent with medical science. And I asked a couple questions:
I asked these questions four days ago. I still haven’t received a response, which is why I called the station today. The news director confirmed that she did receive and read my email, and said they hadn’t decided yet whether they would follow up on the story again. So, while I had her on the line, I figured I’d just directly ask my questions. (I didn’t record the call so this is not an exact transcript.)
“We were telling the story of the person it happened to,” she said.
“Well,” I asked, “what do you do when people with expertise tell you what a person says happened to them is impossible?”
“People who weren’t there, you mean?” she responded.
As I attempted to reframe the question, to ask whether literally any medical expert—a doctor, pharmacologist, or toxicologist—had been consulted in either the original reporting or the editor’s note, I was politely hung up on.
As I was hung up on, I thought about how everyone might want to call their local news stations more often.