WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina Army National Guard Soldiers from the 43rd Civil Support Team conducted a multi-agency micro lab training Feb. 20-22, 2018.

First responders from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Lexington Fire Department, Cayce Department of Public Safety and the Pine Ridge Police Department partnered with the SCNG CST for a three-day micro lab training course conducted by Network Environmental Services, Inc., a company out of Folsom, California, that trains military and civilian first responders across the country on safe measures and procedures in dealing with chemical and physical hazards.

The instructors at NES, Inc. consist of police officers, former DEA and chemical experts. The micro lab class is a combination of classroom and hands-on training, allowing students to familiarize with technical chemical terms and see first hand the processes drug dealers go through to create the products sold on the street to ensure incident responders handle lab investigations and entries safely and effectively.

According to Michael Cashman, an instructor for NES and a retired DEA, "One of the biggest concerns we have right now is dealing with fentanyl exposure."

In the last several years, U.S. Law Enforcement has seen a dramatic increase in the availability of dangerous synthetic opioids; a large majority of these synthetic opioids are derivatives of "fentanyl." The presence of synthetic opioids in the illicit U.S. drug market is extremely concerning as the potency of these drugs has led to a significant increase in overdose incidents and overdose-related deaths throughout the nation.

"Fentanyl is not just a police problem, or a CST problem. It's everyone's problem," said Cashman. "We are seeing more and more fatalities from fentanyl exposure. The goal of this training is safety. We want to make sure that when these guys enter a situation and see evidence of fentanyl, they know what to do."

The class reinforces what to look for to recognize and reduce the dangers of fentanyl exposure for first responders. Since fentanyl can be ingested orally, inhaled through the nose or mouth, or absorbed through the skin or eyes, any substance suspected to contain fentanyl must be treated with extreme caution as exposure to even a small amount can lead to significant health-related complications, respiratory depression, or death.

Lt. Col. James Bowling, commander of the 43rd CST, coordinated the training with local first responders and civilian partners to increase the CST's readiness to respond in multi-agency civilian incidents.

"The threat environment has changed," said Bowling. "What we are seeing is that homemade explosives, weapons of mass destruction, hazardous materials and even clandestine lab processes often look very much the same and have a lot of the same ingredients and precursors. What this training does is increase our situational awareness. When the CST and our civilian partners respond to a call, we have to know what to look for to ensure everyone's safety."

"Providing this level of specialized training for our Civil Support Team and civilian law enforcement partners is critical during an incident response," said Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, the adjutant general. "These Soldiers are on the front lines every day safeguarding our communities. Therefore, their safety is a top priority."