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Why Does the Media Keep Uncritically Repeating Implausible Police Fentanyl Overdose Stories?

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Billy Binion | 8.9.2021 11:30 AM

Last month, something beyond imagination happened in Southern California: A San Diego sheriff's deputy appeared to overdose simply by touching fentanyl, or perhaps by just standing near it.

The thing that made it so astounding: Medical professionals agree that such a feat is essentially impossible. The thing that made it even more astounding: Several local, national, and international media uncritically regurgitated the claim. This episode is an important reminder that recycling government press releases does not qualify as reporting.

"'I'm not going to let you die': Fentanyl exposure almost kills San Diego County deputy," read a late Friday headline on a story written by The San Diego Union-Tribune, which was printed in the Los Angeles Times. (It has since been changed.) "Fentanyl exposure knocks officer off his feet in seconds," warned CNN. "Police trainee exposed to fentanyl during arrest collapses and almost dies but is saved by partner," said The Independent, a British publication.

The articles were based on a video released by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, complete with last month's body camera footage and one-on-one confessionals with the officers involved.

In it, you see Deputy David Faiivae—who was in training—approach the trunk of a car, where he says he sees a white powder. Shortly thereafter, his arms slightly rise, and he wobbles backward, collapsing on the ground.

"He was OD'ing," narrates Corporal Scott Crane, as the video alternates between his body camera footage from above and Faiivae's from the ground. Crane goes to this truck and gets Narcan, the nasal spray used to treat emergency opioid overdoses.

"I remember just not feeling right and then I fell back," says Faiivae. "And then I don't........

© Reason.com

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