Amid increasing numbers of drug-related deaths, funeral homes have become concerned about the safety of their employees, who may be accidentally exposed to opioids.
In Maryland, funeral directors, who call themselves the last responders to the opioid epidemic, are now stocking naloxone. Funeral homes in Chicago and Canada are also reportedly stocking the life-saving drug.
Naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan among others, is a medicine that blocks the effects of opioids especially in an overdose. The drug can reverse the potentially deadly effects of an opioid overdose when administered in time.
The funeral industry is concerned that its staff and guests could come into contact with opioids. It has now urged licensed morticians to be aggressive when it comes to preparing for potential overdoses.
Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil could be on a deceased person’s body or on the clothes of a mourner and these could accidentally expose staff or guests at the funeral home.
These drugs can be lethal even in small amounts when inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Police and medical workers who respond to drug overdoses have had their share of dangerous exposures. In Harford County, for instance, two emergency medical workers and a sheriff’s deputy had to be treated in May for exposure after they responded to a reported incident of overdose.
The National Funeral Directors Association has advised its members across the country to prepare in case somebody suffers from an exposure.
The NFDA said that members need to train staff to administer naloxone and distinguish the symptoms of an overdose.
“The opioid crisis presents unique challenges for funeral directors, from working with families whose loved one has died from an overdose to protecting themselves from harm when handling the body of an overdose victim during removal or embalming,” the NFDA said.
“Be prepared! Understand the epidemic so you can better serve your families and protect yourself.”
Several funeral homes already had their brush with danger. According to the Baltimore Sun funeral directors in Harford and Baltimore counties are increasingly dealing with incidents of drug use among mourners and in their properties.
One funeral home owner in Catonsville has called the police five times to report individuals, who were not funeral guests, who were using drugs in his property.
“Before, funeral directors used to carry smelling salts. Now, you carry Narcan,” said Jim Schwartz, funeral director of MacNabb Funeral Home in Catonsville.