Trooper who collapsed in parking lot back on the job

NEW HAVEN — Vermont State Police officials on Wednesday identified heroin as the substance that Trooper Brett Flansburg encountered during a March 15 traffic stop in Leicester and subsequently caused him to become ill and collapse in the parking lot of the New Haven barracks. He revived after getting several doses of Narcan, the opioid blocking drug.
Flansburg, who was an acting sergeant at the time of this incident while New Haven Barracks Lt. Jeff Danoski was in Rutland on temporary assignment, has since returned to full duty as a trooper, according to the VSP.
“We are grateful that Trooper Flansburg has recovered and returned to work,” said VSP Director Col. Matthew T. Birmingham.
State police, in a press release, said results of any medical tests “must remain confidential due to Trooper Flansburg’s personal privacy rights,” and that “the ultimate cause of the incident in March is inconclusive.”
Birmingham and Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Thomas D. Anderson added that although the cause of this incident remains unknown, agencies including the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are warning first responders about “the potential hazards of encountering powerful opioids.”
“While we know that the risk of overdose from merely touching these drugs is low, we take the CDC at its word when it says first responders face possibly life-threatening consequences through exposure routes including inhalation, mucous membrane contact, ingestion and needles,” Anderson said.
The incident in question began at about 11:25 p.m. on Friday, March 15, when Flansburg stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation on West Street in Leicester. While speaking with the driver, Flansburg alleged seeing the passenger — later identified as Taylor C. Woodward, 25, of Brandon — swallow an item. Woodward told authorities the item was a baggie of cocaine, according to state police.
During a subsequent search of the passenger and the vehicle, Sgt. Flansburg located and collected as evidence a small quantity of heroin in a baggie, an empty plastic baggie, and a syringe, police said. Woodward was taken into custody by other troopers on the scene for processing on suspicion of possessing heroin, according to police.
While transporting the evidence to the New Haven Barracks, Flansburg began to feel ill, police said. He called for help upon arriving at the barracks, then collapsed in the parking lot, police said. Fellow troopers found him unresponsive and quickly administered two doses of the opiate overdose reversal drug Narcan. He was given a third dose of Narcan while being rushed to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, whereupon he began to show signs of improvement, according to police. At the hospital, Sgt. Flansburg received additional medical treatment and later was released.
As a precaution, police also brought Woodward to the medical center, where he was cleared and released, according to police. He was cited to appear in Addison Superior Court, criminal division, on May 6 to answer a misdemeanor charge of possession of heroin.
News reports that the trooper allegedly overdosed simply by touching a drug prompted cries of “foul” on social media.
Dave Silberman of Middlebury, for one, wrote, “It is far more likely that he suffered an anxiety attack” on the Addison Independent Facebook page. He followed up with “There’s no stigma in experiencing acute anxiety after a situation like that, especially after being told (incorrectly) that incidental exposure can be deadly.”
But others pointed to reports that cite federal agencies as proof that Flansburg could have OD’d from the incidental contact with what was thought at the time might be heroin, although comparisons to fentanyl were made.
Jeremy Holm pushed back citing a Drug Enforcement Agency report, among others. He wrote, “To state that he may have had a panic attack on a public forum is irresponsible at best, and most certainly misinformation.” Replying directly to Silberman he wrote, “your assumption about what Brett experienced is wrong. Read up.”
VTDigger.org cited Dr. Howie Mell, an emergency physician in the Chicago area and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, who said that touching a baggie or brushing drugs off your uniform simply didn’t cause overdoses.
“Mell and others say a more likely explanation for the collapses is panic attacks brought on by fears of overdoses, though there is no certainty about that,” Collin Meyn wrote on VTDigger.
Meyn quoted a joint release from the American College of Medical Toxicology and American Academy of Clinical Toxicology: “Fentanyl and its analogs are potent opioid receptor agonists, but the risk of clinically significant exposure to emergency responders is extremely low. To date, we have not seen reports of emergency responders developing signs or symptoms consistent with opioid toxicity from incidental contact with opioids.”

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