Billerica officer passes out after suspect allegedly exposes her to fentanyl

Charles Lang, 65, of Lowell, is facing several charges.

A Lowell man is facing a slew of charges after he allegedly exposed a Billerica police officer to fentanyl during a traffic stop. The officer later passed out and was evaluated at a local hospital, officials said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the officer pulled over a vehicle with a canceled registration, Billerica police said in a news release. The driver, 65-year-old Charles Lang, was also determined to have a suspended license, officials said.

As the officer approached Lang’s car, police said Lang was observed trying to destroy a bag with a powdery substance that was later identified as fentanyl.

When the officer tried to get Lang out of the car to stop him from destroying potential evidence, Lang allegedly tore open the bag.


“The powdered substance became airborne and was spread across Lang’s hands and also across the rear quarter panel of the vehicle,” police said.

The officer also found that Lang was carrying a small amount of Adderall without a prescription, according to police.

After taking Lang into custody and returning to the police station, the officer became lethargic and passed out, officials said.

“Out of concern that the officer had inhaled some of the substance once it had become airborne, paramedics determined that the officer should be transported to a local hospital for evaluation,” police said in an updated press release.

She was later released from the hospital.

Police charged Lang with possession of a Class A substance, withholding evidence from a criminal proceeding, possession of a Class E substance, operating with a suspended license, attaching plates, operating an unregistered motor vehicle, and operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

He was arraigned Thursday in Lowell District Court.

What caused the officer to pass out?

“We are grateful that our officer is expected to make a full recovery, but alarmed that such a small amount of fentanyl caused an officer to lose consciousness,” Billerica Police Chief Roy Frost said in the original release. “This incident highlights the potency of fentanyl and the dangers that are faced by officers if this substance becomes airborne.”


However, experts say it’s highly unlikely that brief exposure to fentanyl in general can cause an overdose or serious symptoms.

“This is a dangerous drug and should be dealt with that way. But over the years an entire mythology has grown up around the drug because of these dangers, and this has had some rather odd consequences,” chemist Derek Lowe wrote in a 2022 article in the journal Science. “Too many people now believe that they can be immediately killed by a fentanyl overdose from any sort of skin contact with the drug, and that’s just not true. It’s potent and toxic for sure, but you have to be dosed with it for that to happen.”

Lowe points out that the CDC removed a video last year that it now says mischaracterized the risks first responders face when exposed to fentanyl on the job. 

Additionally, the New York Times Magazine published an article last year that called into question the accuracy of numerous videos that purportedly showed police officers experiencing symptoms of fentanyl overdose after brief exposure. 

Frost did not immediately respond to a request for comment from on Tuesday night, but he commented on the incident to NBC10 Boston last week.


“It’s a very tight and enclosed area in the front of the car and this product went airborne and while it was airborne this officer ultimately ingested or inhaled some of this powder is what we believe likely caused the medical episode that she suffered shortly thereafter,” he said, noting the office became lethargic and then unresponsive and vomited. “ … What caused that medical episode, it’s probable that it was the inhalation of whatever this substance was which was later tested as positive for fentanyl.”

“It’s possible this officer’s medical episode was related to something other than fentanyl, it’s absolutely possible, it’s not probable though that the exposure is not what caused her medical episode she was healthy and then she wasn’t and she was exposed to a clandestinely made unknown narcotic that caused a problem for her and so it’s dangerous,” Frost added to NBC10.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with Billerica police’s updated comments and to clarify the risks associated with fentanyl exposure.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the officer as male.


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