Up to seven people were hospitalized, including five law enforcement officers and a tow truck driver, after a chemical exposure while attempting to aid the driver of a car who stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge Sunday, California authorities said.
The California Highway Patrol said authorities received reports of a driver in a Lexus swerving erratically on the San Francisco bridge and scraping the center barrier before coming to a stop on the south end just before noon.
One of the officers who responded to the scene entered the vehicle to turn off the ignition and found the driver unconscious, CHP Officer Andrew Barclay said.
Officers also found a “white powdery substance,” believed to be fentanyl, in the vehicle. Paramedics suspected the driver was under the influence of opioids and administered two doses of Narcan, Barclay said, referring to a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of narcotics and prevent overdoses.
Moments later, the CHP officer who found the driver unconscious became violently ill and was also rendered unconscious.
“Based off his training he believed he may have been experiencing symptoms of fentanyl exposure, very quickly those symptoms escalated and he became incapacitated,” Barclay said. "Two others on the scene — a CHP officer and a tow-truck driver — tried to help the first officer out of the car, and administered Narcan.”
Meanwhile, other officers on the scene also began exhibiting symptoms of a fentanyl exposure and fire officials arrived and also gave them Narcan.
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In all, four highway patrol officers, a Golden Gate Bridge patrol officer, a tow-truck driver and the car's driver were transported to Marin General Hospital for exposure to the substance.
The hazardous materials team from the Mill Valley Fire Department was called in to help decontaminate the car and several CHP cruisers.
The hazmat team later reported that the substance found in the vehicle tested negative for fentanyl. Officials have not yet determined what the chemical was. However, CHP officials said they still suspect fentanyl was involved due to the symptoms and reaction to treatment, which were consistent with exposure to the drug.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Typically used to treat patients with severe pain after surgery, illicitly produced fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids have been a driving factor in overdose deaths in the U.S. in recent years.
All seven people admitted to the hospital were treated and have been released, authorities said.
The driver of the vehicle was booked into San Francisco County Jail on suspicion of DUI and possession of a controlled substance.