Hospital Did Not Run Toxicology Test on Deputy Whom Sheriff Thought Had Fentanyl Overdose

A hospital did not take a toxicology sample of the deputy whom San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore thought overdosed from fentanyl exposure, the Associated Press reported.

Gore acknowledged that he wrongly claimed Deputy David Faiivae overdosed from the powerful opioid after saying the officer had a near-death experience from the exposure. When Faiivae came in contact with the powdered substance on July 3 during a vehicle search, he fell to the ground and struggled to breath. Unedited body camera footage released Thursday captured Faiivae saying he had fallen on his head a few times before and might have had concussions.

"Do you think it was the dope, or do you think you were having heat exhaustion?" another deputy who was on the scene, Cpl. Scott Crane, asked Faiivae in the video footage after spraying naloxone in his nose. Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is used during opioid overdoses.

"No, I was good," Faiivae said. "I just got light-headed."

Public health experts criticized Gore for his claim about the fentanyl overdose and said it contributed to misunderstanding about the drug.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Deputy David Faiivae Fentanyl Exposure
In this image taken from police body camera video and provided by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy David Faiivae gets aid from an officer after being exposed to fentanyl on July 3, 2021, in San Diego, California. Uncredited/San Diego County Sheriff's Department via AP

Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Experts say the sheriff's department, which initially released a dramatic, edited four-minute video last week of the incident, has fueled misunderstanding and unsubstantiated fears about the danger posed by very limited contact with fentanyl. Public health professionals have long said overdosing from skin contact or inhalation of fentanyl is extremely unlikely—though the sheriff said he did not know that.

Gore has acknowledged that he, and not a doctor, concluded that Faiivae overdosed after the deputy came close to the powder, staggered backward and fell to the ground, struggling to breathe.

Authorities also said the hospital that treated Faiivae did not take a sample from him for a toxicology test—which is typical in suspected overdose cases.

In the raw video, Crane tells Faiivae to "watch your face close to that [expletive]."

The naloxone Crane sprayed is used to reverse the effect of opioids but will not harm the person if they do not have the drugs in their system.

Later, a firefighter asks the deputy about his medical history.

"Probably my sixth or seventh time I've fallen on my head," Faiivae says, noting he may have had previous concussions.

Experts told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Faiivae may have had a "nocebo"—the opposite of a placebo—where if you believe something will harm you, you feel an effect.

"A nocebo effect could explain what is going on in this incident," Dr. Ryan Marino, medical director of toxicology at University Hospitals in Cleveland, told the newspaper earlier this week. "I can say from watching that video he is not having an overdose."

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore
A hospital did not take a toxicology sample of a deputy that San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore claimed to have overdosed from fentanyl after exposure to the drug. Above, Gore speaks to members of the media at the San Diego County Sheriff's Department office in San Diego, California. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images