Spotlight: Fentanyl and High-Potency Drugs


The occupational hazards present in the workplace regularly change and evolve, which is why it’s essential for industrial hygienist (IH) and occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) professionals to stay on top of emerging trends. The exposure scenarios related to fentanyl are still relatively new. In our ongoing effort to advance our industry, we continuously add new professional development courses (PDCs) to the AIHce EXP agenda, and this year is no exception.

PDC 102: Fentanyl and High-Potency Drugs Operational Safety will address the risks related to fentanyl and other high-potency drugs, precautions for protection against exposure, and how to identify overexposure. Dr. John Murphy, Ph.D., ROH, CIH is the lead instructor for this PDC. With a Bachelor of Science in radiation biology and physiological psychology, an MHSc in industrial hygiene, and a doctorate in occupational health, he’s been a lifelong learner at the University of Toronto. We’re excited to have him back at AIHce EXP. Here are a few highlights from our conversation with him about why this PDC course is essential.

AIHA: First, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Dr. Murphy: I have been a practicing occupational hygienist since 1985, working full time as a consultant since 1991 at REA, which I founded and continue to lead. I am an adjunct professor in occupational and environmental health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and I also teach occupational hygiene at the Canadian Forces Health Services Training Centre. I am a Registered Occupational Hygienist and Certified Industrial Hygienist. Throughout my career, I have worked on or supervised over 16,000 assignments for more than 3,000 client organizations across North America and have delivered training to thousands of people. 

AIHA: What’s your experience and involvement with AIHA and AIHce?

Dr. Murphy: I am a member of ACGIH and ABIH. I have attended a number of AIHce events over the past three decades, including those in Montreal, Toronto, Orlando, and most recently Seattle. I taught a PDC on pandemic influenza at the Toronto AIHce. 

AIHA: How long have you been teaching this course?

Dr. Murphy: The course was initially developed in 2016, at which time I was performing a high-potency opioids occupational risk assessment for a national police agency. The course grew out of the knowledge and experience of that project, supplemented by a significant amount of research on the emergence and nature of the fentanyl problem in North America.

AIHA: Who should be taking this PDC 102 course?

Dr. Murphy: Potential workplace exposure to fentanyl and its analogs is a real and significant risk for individuals in a variety of occupations: border security, postal and courier operations, policing, corrections, emergency medical care, firefighting, community services, public health, etc. It is essential that occupational health and safety specialists and occupational hygienists working in those sectors have an understanding of fentanyl as an occupational hazard and what we do and do not know about exposure dynamics and control measures.

AIHA: How has exposure and health risk assessment in the workplace evolved over the past decade?

Dr. Murphy: Fentanyl is a relatively recent public and occupational health issue. It has emerged as a significant drug of abuse and illegal distribution over only the past seven years, and the scale and nature of the threat have become more generally known in just the past couple of years. The exposure scenarios and risks are not amenable to conventional occupational hygiene quantitative exposure assessment techniques, and instead, it is necessary to assess risks qualitatively using proxy indicators and modeling. At present, there are no consensus approaches to conducting a qualitative assessment, but events such as this course will help advance methodologies that should enhance protection for occupations at risk of harm.

AIHA: Anything else those interested should know about the PDC 102 course?

Dr. Murphy: As far as I am aware, there is no other training on this subject with an occupational hygiene focus and curriculum anywhere in the world at present. It is a unique training course that is based on real-world experience and state-of-the-art information on an emerging scourge. Also, as I noted above, there are still many unknowns about fentanyl occupational exposure dynamics, and there are some community sources of information, including government sources, that are demonstrably incorrect or not sufficiently qualified based on our current level of knowledge about this subject. This course will point out and correct some common misconceptions. 

PDC 102: Fentanyl and High-Potency Drugs Operational Safety with Dr. Murphy will take place on Saturday, May 18.

Berrak Sarikaya is a natural conversation driver with an undeniable belief in the power of community. A proven content strategist and speaker, she resides in Seattle, WA. Follow her on Twitter.​​

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