Naloxone Stockpiling by Election Offices in Response to Fentanyl-Laced Mail

by Sophia Chen
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Election Security

In recent incidents reminiscent of the 2001 anthrax attacks, election centers and government buildings across six states have received alarming letters. Some of these letters contained fentanyl or white powder, along with veiled threats and political symbols of uncertain origin.

These developments have compelled election officials, already grappling with ongoing harassment, to collaborate with local law enforcement, fire, and health departments. Their aim is to acquire naloxone, a medication that reverses overdoses, as a precautionary measure. This step is seen as prudent, especially in light of the escalating opioid crisis in the U.S., which claims over 100,000 lives annually.

Eldon Miller, head of ballot opening at King County Elections in Seattle, emphasizes the safety of his team, who handle thousands to millions of ballots. The office procured naloxone following the receipt of a fentanyl-tainted letter in August. Miller was photographed at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Washington, amidst boxes of processed ballots.

These letters, appearing in states including Georgia, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, and Kansas, have caused evacuations and disruptions in vote counting. The FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating the matter. The letters featured symbols like an antifascist emblem, a progress pride flag, and a pentagram, which have been variously interpreted and used politically.

Fentanyl, an opioid significantly more potent than heroin, has been a major contributor to the overdose crisis. Experts, however, note that the risk of overdose from incidental contact is low.

The threats against election workers have escalated since false claims about the 2020 election circulated. Anne Dover, elections director in Cherokee County, suburban Atlanta, voices concerns over the emotional and psychological toll on election officials. Her office has adopted new mail-handling precautions and obtained Narcan, a form of naloxone.

Other regions like Lane County, Oregon, and Lincoln County, Nevada, are also training staff and providing naloxone kits. Following a fentanyl-positive letter in Atlanta’s Fulton County, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced naloxone distribution across the state’s 159 counties. Raffensperger, who lost a son to a fentanyl overdose, condemned the letter attacks.

The King County Elections office in Renton received another fentanyl-laced letter this month, underscoring the need for naloxone, which is now included in their first aid and emergency kits.

Maya Doe-Simkins of Remedy Alliance/For The People criticizes the allocation of resources for naloxone to election officials, advocating instead for its distribution among those working with high-risk individuals.

Chris Anderson, elections supervisor in Seminole County, Florida, procured Narcan doses as a precaution, despite not receiving any contaminated mail.

In Tacoma, Washington, Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer followed suit after King County’s experience, procuring naloxone after receiving a letter with baking soda.

This story corrects the spelling of Anne Dover’s name and includes contributions from Big Big News writers across various locations. The Big Big News, supported by private foundations, aims to enhance its coverage of elections and democracy, maintaining full editorial responsibility.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Election Security

Why are election offices stocking up on naloxone?

Election offices are stocking up on naloxone in response to a series of incidents where letters, some containing fentanyl or suspicious white powder, were sent to various vote centers and government buildings in six states. This measure is seen as a precaution to ensure the safety of election workers amidst the ongoing opioid crisis.

What triggered the increased security measures at election offices?

The receipt of fentanyl-laced letters and other suspicious mail at election offices in six states has prompted increased security measures. These measures include acquiring naloxone, an overdose reversal medication, and heightened mail handling precautions to protect election workers from potential harm.

Are there any confirmed risks of overdose from the fentanyl-laced letters?

While the risk of overdose from incidental contact with fentanyl in the letters is low, election officials are taking no chances. The decision to stock naloxone is more of a precautionary step in the context of the broader opioid crisis, rather than a response to a high risk of overdose from the letters.

What are the symbols found on the fentanyl-laced letters, and what do they signify?

The symbols on the fentanyl-laced letters include an antifascist emblem, a progress pride flag, and a pentagram. These symbols have been variously interpreted and used in political contexts, making it difficult to ascertain the sender’s political leanings.

How are election officials responding to the threats and harassment they face?

In response to ongoing threats and harassment, including the recent incidents of fentanyl-laced letters, election officials are coordinating with local authorities for safety resources and are implementing new safety protocols for handling mail. Emotional and psychological support is also being highlighted due to the increasing stress on election workers.

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