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Be careful what you do: Potential risks from illicit drug residue

As we continue to face an opioid crisis, insurance adjusters need to make health and safety a focus during the inspection of a claim. It is essential to be aware of the potential health risks you could be facing, as today there is a real possibility the property or vehicle you are dealing with may have illicit drug residue. When you are on the scene, look for evidence of potential drug use and/or residue from possibly the insured, a third party involved in the claim or an unknown party. The most important factor when dealing with opioids is to protect your respiratory system and then eyes, nose and mouth.

Consider, for example, a situation where an adjuster is undertaking the inspection of a damaged property caused by the renter, and a white powder is discovered. This powder could be a number of substances – flour, drywall compound, cocaine or even fentanyl – it is important to treat it with caution due to the risk from potential inhalation or ingestion should it become airborne. If the substance contains fentanyl this will, in turn, affect the claim. Consider another example where a car is stolen and damaged by individuals. Were they high on drugs? What is the risk, if any, to the repair facility?

When asked to respond to claims, it’s important to take steps to protect ourselves, our sub trades and mitigate possible risk. First start by asking yourself, do I really know what the risks are and who can help assess and clean it up? Next, think about the risks by asking yourself how can we best manage the salvage? As the opioid crisis continues to grow, these questions are all crucial considerations.

Fentanyl and its analogues are both now being cut into to more common illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin and counterfeit medications. For this reason, there is no easy way to know if fentanyl is a component drug – especially because you can’t see, smell or taste it. This causes additional problems, as it is essential to know if there is even a very small amount of fentanyl when handling a substance because of its dangerously high toxicity. 

What level of exposure from opioids increases health risks? The answer isn’t clear-cut, as it depends on the type of drug present, as well as the amount – highly variable if performed in an uncontrolled and unregulated fashion. With fentanyl being 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and carfentanil approximately 100 times more potent than fentanyl, the risk is very apparent. Put into another context, as little as a grain of salt of carfentanil could be lethal. 

If faced with a suspected or known issue involving illicit drugs, it is important to do your homework and make sure that qualified and experienced firms are utilized for the assessment and decontamination. Cleaning can create hazardous wastes or other issues if not done properly. Documenting the work and results by designated professionals is another way to limit a potential liability. In Canada, Alberta is the first province working to establish guidance in practice for the assessment and remediation of fentanyl contamination, and Alberta Health Services hosted a workshop in which EFI Global was asked to participate based on our experience in this field. 

Next time you’re walking through a property and happen to notice a strange powder on your clothes, think twice before simply brushing it off. And if you have questions, let us know. We’re here to help. 


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