I was startled to see this recent article on the Yahoo News website concerning an issue that I thought was long settled: The risk of overdose, even the fatal sort, to police officers tasked with handling confiscated fentanyl.

According to the original report, the officer in this incident could well have died except for prompt administration of Narcan by a fellow deputy. Here’s what happened:

Florida deputy hospitalized after fentanyl exposure during traffic stop, bodycam footage shows

This being 21st Century law enforcement, the whole incident was on camera, of course.

It began with a traffic stop of a 61-year-old man who, it seems, was found to be in possession of a trove of fentanyl, cocaine, and pot. While examining the sample, the officer felt his heartbeat unexpectedly increase, then felt dizzy and faint. At one point he complained that he couldn’t feel his legs. After two doses of Narcan, he was transported to the hospital, where he spent the night, then was released home.

That’s about as deep as the TV news looked into it. The Sheriff praised the other deputy for having quite possibly saved the victim’s life.

But I had to wonder how enough fentanyl had come into contact with the deputy’s bare skin to produce the sort of reaction he experienced – given he was wearing gloves. Probably the blue nitrile sort we see on TV crime shows. Fentanyl can be dangerous, but primarily through ingestion, not surface contact. And its effects are dose-dependent, meaning just a very little on the skin shouldn’t be enough to trigger that level of response. What about inhaling it, you may ask? That too is apparently an unlikely cause.

It’s all explained in this next article, from the online edition of Science magazine. It was written a few years ago, during the last round of reports by law enforcement on similar incidents, involving other officers in other departments.

Fainting From Fentanyl Exposure? Nope.

So what’s happening here? It’s anybody’s guess. I’ve heard an array of theories, ranging from hysterical reaction on the part of the officers (not popular among the officers, understandably) to cynical attempts by local Sheriffs to draw more funding, and Q-Anon level conspiracies involving foreign terrorists running amok.

Who knows? It’s hard to convince someone who sincerely believes they experienced an event like this that it was something else entirely. On the other hand, if it were true, scientists should be able to confirm it – and they’ve tried.

Anyway, I should note that it happened in Florida, and the original reporting was by Fox News.