Ga. voting officials stock up on Narcan over opioid-laced letters
Election officials in Georgia and elsewhere are stocking up on the overdose reversal medication naloxone after a series of suspicious mailings — some containing traces of fentanyl — were sent to vote centers or government buildings in six states.
Even if there’s little risk from incidental contact with the synthetic opioid, having the antidote on hand isn’t a bad idea amid an addiction epidemic that is killing more than 100,000 people in the U.S. every year — and it can provide some assurance for stressed ballot workers, election managers say.
The office of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said it will provide naloxone to any of the state’s 159 counties after a letter intercepted on its way to elections officials in Atlanta’s Fulton County tested positive for opioids.
Condemning the letters, Raffensperger noted one of his sons died of a fentanyl overdose about five years ago: “We know how deadly this stuff is.”
Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Travis Doss says although there were “a few issues” in 2020, his agency hasn’t had any problems so far this year.
There also haven’t been any problems in Columbia County, said Nancy Gay, the election director there.
Election workers across the country have been besieged by threats, harassment and intimidation since former President Donald Trump and his supporters began spreading false election claims after he lost the 2020 election.
“I hope we encourage people to not hurt election officials,” said Anne Dover, the elections director in suburban Atlanta’s Cherokee County, which did not receive a suspicious letter. “A lot of people are leaving the field. It’s not just threats of physical harm. There’s a lot of emotional and psychological abuse.”
Dover reached out this month to fire department officials, who provided Narcan, the nasal spray version of naloxone. Naloxone can be obtained over the counter, given to people of all ages and does not harm people who do not have opioids in their system.
Her office also is taking new precautions with mail: leaving it in a particular spot and having one person designated to open it wearing gloves and a mask.
Maya Doe-Simkins, co-director of Remedy Alliance/For The People, which launched last year to provide low-cost or free naloxone to community-based, harm-reduction programs, said governments should be more focused on providing the antidote to those who work with people likely to overdose.
There is no shortage of naloxone, which is available online and at some pharmacies, but its distribution leaves something to be desired, Doe-Simkins said.
“It is an absolute gross misuse of resources to spend money on ensuring that election officials have naloxone,” Doe-Simkins said, especially because “the actual appropriate and evidence-based intervention for naloxone distribution is underfunded and under-resourced.”
The letters were sent this month to vote centers or government buildings in six states: Georgia, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington and Kansas. Some were intercepted before they arrived, but others were delivered, prompting evacuations and briefly delaying vote counts in local elections. The FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating.
Some of the letters featured an antifascist symbol, a progress pride flag and a pentagram. While the symbols have sometimes been associated with leftist politics, they also have been used by conservative figures to label and stereotype the left. The sender’s political leanings were unclear.
Fentanyl, an opioid that can be 50 times as powerful as the same amount of heroin, is driving an overdose crisis as it is pressed into pills or mixed into other drugs. Briefly touching it cannot cause an overdose, and researchers have found the risk of fatal overdose from accidental exposure is low, unlike with powdered anthrax that can float in the air and cause deadly infections when inhaled.
Copyright 2023 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.