Cops’ imaginary fears send addicts to real jail

The deadly myth of the fentanyl contact high.

Cory Doctorow
4 min readJan 27, 2022


A ‘thin blue line’ flag but instead of a blue line, you can see the top of a greasy pepperoni pizza.Image: Zack Middleton (modified) CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite what you may have heard, cops have a relatively safe job. Cops are injured and killed with less frequency than roofers, truckers, fishermen, and pizza-delivery people. Cops are basically armed bureaucrats and their primary role is to file reports about crimes, not intervene in dangerous situations.

Now, you may have heard that cop deaths are way, way, way up over the past two years. That is actually true — cops have been slain in unprecedented numbers since the pandemic began. Nearly all those deaths are the result of catching covid. Naturally, police unions (which are not actually unions) are fighting tooth-and-nail against vaccine and mask requirements for cops.

(You’ve heard of “suicide by cop?” This is “suicide by cop union.”)

The rhetoric about the dangerous life of a cop doesn’t merely serve to make cops feel romantic about their form-filling and rule-enforcing. It’s the foundation of the narrative that makes it okay for police officers to murder people suspected of minor crimes using overwhelming, unjustifiable force: that force is hand-waved away as the inevitable result of the daily terror of being a cop on the mean, mean streets.

The latest mutation of this mean-streets story is the nonsensical claims that police officers are in daily risk of dying because they might be touched by someone experiencing a fentanyl overdose, and, in so doing, absorb a fatal dose of fentanyl through their fingertips.

This isn’t a thing. There’s a reason fentanyl users snort it and inject it, rather than rubbing it between their fingers.

It’s not a thing when the Sacramento Bee reports it:

It’s not a thing when CNN reports it:



Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog:; Mailing list:; Mastodon: