Seattle (AFP) – Sending suspicious messages to polling stations Government buildings in six states this month were decidedly creepy, some containing traces of fentanyl or the white powder, accompanied by not-so-veiled threats and questionable political symbolism.
Back to Anthrax attacks That claimed the lives of five people in 2001, the mailers prompted election officials already frustrated by constant harassment and threats to reach out to local police, fire and health departments for help stocking the anti-overdose drug naloxone.
Even if there is a small risk of accidental contact with synthetic opioids, having an antidote on hand is not a bad idea amid… Addiction epidemic Which kills more than 100,000 people in the United States every year — and can offer some reassurance Stressed poll workersElection administrators say.
“My team typically comes under direct fire just because we’re opening thousands or millions of ballots depending on the election,” said Eldon Miller, who leads the ballot-opening team for King County Elections in Seattle, which has stocked naloxone. after receiving a letter laced with fentanyl in August. “I always tell my team, your safety is my top priority.”
The letters were sent this month to voting centers or government buildings in six states: Georgia, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington and Kansas. Some were intercepted before their arrival, but others were turned over, leading to evacuations and briefly delaying vote counting in local elections. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Postal Inspection Service are investigating.
Some of the messages included an anti-fascist symbol, a Pride of Progress flag, and a five-pointed star. While the symbols have sometimes been associated with left-wing politics, they have also been used by conservative figures to categorize and stereotype the left. The sender’s political leanings were unclear.
Fentanyl, an opioid that can be 50 times more powerful than the same amount of heroin, leads to an overdose crisis as it is pressed into pills or mixed with other drugs. Touching it briefly cannot cause an overdose, and researchers have found that the risk of fatal overdose from accidental exposure is low, unlike with… Powdered anthrax Which can float in the air and cause fatal infections when inhaled.
Election workers across the country have been under siege Threats, harassment and intimidation Since former President Donald 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 in suburban Atlanta, who did not receive any suspicious letter. “A lot of people are leaving the field. It’s not just threats of physical harm. There’s a lot of emotional and psychological abuse.”
This month, Dover reached out to officials who provided Narcan, a nasal spray version of naloxone. Naloxone can be obtained without a prescription and is given to people of all ages It doesn’t hurt People who do not have opioids in their system.
Her office is also taking new precautions with mail: leaving it in a designated place and designating one person to open it wearing gloves and a mask.
Linn County, Oregon, which received a suspicious letter, will provide naloxone kits and train staff to administer them. Neither did Lincoln County, Nevada, which didn’t get one.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said this week it would provide naloxone to any of the state’s 159 counties after a letter intercepted on its way to election officials in Atlanta’s Fulton County tested positive for opioids.
Condemning the messages, Raffensperger noted that one of his sons died of a fentanyl overdose about five years ago: “We know how dangerous this substance is.”
Some of the letters, including ones sent to King and Pierce counties in Washington state, bear striking similarities to those received by King County during vote counts in the August primary this year. The incident prompted King County Elections to purchase naloxone, even though the antidote was not needed at the time nor when her office in Renton received a second letter containing fentanyl this month.
“We felt like it was just a good idea to have on hand for all kinds of scenarios these days,” King County Elections Representative Haley Watkins said. “We put them in a few places in the building, and we include them with the first aid kits and emergency equipment that goes to off-site voting centers.”
Governments should focus more on providing the antidote to these people, said Maya de Simkins, co-director of Remedy Alliance/For the People, which launched last year to provide low-cost or free naloxone to community harm reduction programs. Which works with people who are likely to overdose.
De Simkins said there is no shortage of naloxone, which is available online and in some pharmacies, but its distribution leaves something to be desired.
“Spending money on ensuring election officials have access to naloxone is a gross misuse of resources,” especially since “the current appropriate, evidence-based naloxone distribution intervention is underfunded and under-resourced,” de Simkins said.
Chris Anderson, the supervisor of elections in Seminole County, Florida, said his office had not received any envelopes containing fentanyl in the mail, but it did get several doses of Narcan this month from the fire department, which said it had plenty of supplies.
“We can save a life instantly with these things,” Anderson said. “I appreciate the advice given to us by medical professionals, and we will certainly do everything we can to use Narcan, but in that one instance where it is needed, I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
In Tacoma, Washington, Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer said her office obtained naloxone after neighboring King County’s trial in August. The office received a threatening letter this month containing baking soda and used the opportunity to reiterate the availability of naloxone.
“We reminded staff last week where to find him,” Farmer said.
Komenda reported from Tacoma, Washington. Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Jeff Emme in Atlanta, David Fisher in Miami and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed.
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