Election officials stock up on naloxone after fentanyl-laced letters disrupt vote counting

(Lindsey Wasson/Associated Press)

Election officials stock up on naloxone after fentanyl-laced letters disrupt vote counting


November 18, 2023

The suspicious letters sent to voting centers and government offices in six states this month were undeniably terrifying; some contain traces of fentanyl or white powder, accompanied by thinly veiled threats and questionable political symbols.

Harkening back to the anthrax attacks that killed five people in 2001, the mailers prompted election officials, already frustrated by continued intimidation and threats, to contact local police, fire and health departments for help stocking up on the overdose medication naloxone .

Even if there is little risk from incidental contact with the synthetic opioid, having the antidote on hand is not a bad idea amid an addiction epidemic that kills more than 100,000 people in the U.S. every year and could provide some security to stressed polling stations. , election managers say.

My team is usually in direct fire just because we’ve opened thousands or millions of ballots depending on the election, said Eldon Miller, who heads the ballot opening staff at King County Elections in Seattle, who took naloxone after receiving a fentanyl . -laced letter in August. I always say to my team: your safety is my most important thing.”

The letters were sent this month to voting centers and government offices in six states: Georgia, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington and Kansas. Some were intercepted before they arrived, but others were delivered, leading to evacuations and a brief delay in the counting of votes in local elections. The FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service are investigating.

Some letters include an anti-fascist symbol, a progress flag and a pentagram. While the symbols are sometimes associated with left-wing politics, they are also used by conservative figures to label and stereotype the left. The sender’s political affiliations were unclear.

Fentanyl, an opioid that can be fifty times as powerful as the same amount of heroin, causes an overdose crisis when it is pressed into pills or mixed with other drugs. A brief touch cannot cause an overdose, and researchers have found that the risk of a fatal overdose from accidental exposure is low, unlike powdered anthrax which can float in the air and cause fatal infections if inhaled.

Election workers across the country have been defeated by threats, intimidation and intimidation since former President Trump and his supporters began spreading false election claims after he lost the 2020 election.

I hope we encourage people not to hurt election officials, said Anne Dover, elections director in Cherokee County, a suburb of Atlanta, which did not receive a suspicious letter. Many people leave the field. It’s not just about threats of physical harm. There is a lot of emotional and psychological abuse.

Dover contacted the fire department this month to fire officials who supplied Narcan, the nasal spray version of naloxone. Naloxone can be obtained without a prescription, given to people of all ages, and is not harmful to people who do not have opioids in their system.

Her office is also taking new precautions regarding mail: leaving the mail in a designated location and designating one person to open the mail, wearing gloves and a mask.

Lane County, Oregon, which received a suspicious letter, will provide naloxone kits and train staff on how to administer them. That includes Lincoln County, Nevada, which received none.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said this week it will provide naloxone to one of the state’s 159 counties after a letter intercepted en route to election officials in Atlanta’s Fulton County tested positive for opioids.

Raffensperger condemned the letters, noting that one of his sons died of a fentanyl overdose about five years ago: We know how deadly this stuff is.

Some of the letters, including those sent to King and Pierce counties in Washington state, bore striking similarities to the letter King County received while counting votes during this year’s primary election in August. The incident prompted King County Elections to purchase naloxone, although the antidote was not needed then or when the Renton office received a second fentanyl-laced letter this month.

We thought it would be a good idea to have on hand for all kinds of scenarios these days, said Halei Watkins, spokesperson for King County Elections. We have it in a few places around the building and are adding it to the first aid and emergency kits that go to our remote voting centers.

Maya Doe-Simkins, co-director of Remedy Alliance/For the People, which launched last year to provide low-cost or free naloxone to community-based harm reduction programs, said governments should focus more on providing the antidote to these people. who work with people who are likely to overdose.

There is no shortage of naloxone, which is available online and at some pharmacies, but distribution leaves much to be desired, Doe-Simkins said.

It is an absolute gross misuse of resources to spend money to ensure election officials have naloxone, Doe-Simkins said, especially because the actual appropriate and evidence-based naloxone distribution intervention is underfunded and under-resourced.

Chris Anderson, the elections supervisor in Seminole County, Florida, said his office has not received any envelopes containing fentanyl in the mail but received several doses of Narcan this month from the fire department, which said there was an adequate supply.

This can immediately save a life, Anderson said. I appreciate the advice given to us by medical professionals, and we will certainly do everything we can to avoid having to use Narcan, but in the one instance where it is needed, I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have.

In Tacoma, Washington, Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer said her office obtained naloxone after neighboring King County’s experience in August. The office received a baking soda threatening letter this month and took the opportunity to reiterate that naloxone is available.

Last week we reminded staff where to find it, Farmer said.

Johnson reported from Seattle, Komenda from Tacoma, Washington. Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Jeff Amy in Atlanta, David Fischer in Miami and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed.


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