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Toronto police have no plans to equip their officers with naloxone

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  • Toronto police have no plans to equip their officers with naloxone

    Police are already supported by paramedics who already have drug that can temporarily reverse opioid overdoses, spokesperson says.

    Some ontario police forces are equipping their officers with naloxone kits.

    While other Ontario police forces are equipping their officers with naloxone — a drug that can temporarily reverse opioid overdoses — Toronto police say they have “no immediate plans” to do the same.

    The Ontario Provincial Police announced early this monththat it will start providing all frontline officers with naloxone kits — primarily to protect officers against potential fentanyl exposure, but also to help members of the public if need be.

    “We don’t know from one call to the next what our officers could encounter,” said Peter Leon, acting staff sergeant with OPP corporate communications.

    “If there is an exposure to fentanyl, time is of the essence.”

    Police forces in Barrie and Peterborough are also among those equipping officers with the medication. Ottawa Police Service approved a pilot project to give naloxone to frontline officers in May.

    An average of two people died every day in Ontario of opioid-related causes in 2015, says the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network.

    In Toronto there was a 73 per cent increase in reported overdose deaths between 2004 and 2015, according to data from the provincial coroner’s office.

    Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said that over the past few months, they’ve looked carefully at whether officers should carry the antidote.

    They concluded that Toronto is well-supported by “first class paramedics,” said Pugash.

    He said paramedics respond quickly, are professionally trained to administer medication, and respond to the same calls where naloxone would be necessary.

    “I think we’re in a very different situation from most other police agencies . . . in Toronto we have a level of support from paramedics that really is second to none,” Pugash said in a phone interview.

    “We believe they provide the assistance that we need.”

    As of January 2016, all Toronto paramedics have been trained to administer naloxone and now carry it in their equipment, said spokesperson Kim McKinnon. She said paramedics respond rapidly to medical emergencies, and that residents of Toronto are well served.

    The Toronto Fire Service is also planning on giving its crews nasal naloxone training and kits, pending city council approval in the fall, said Capt. Michael Westwood in an email.

    Pugash said it’s a Toronto police policy that officers can’t administer any medication, except for an epiPen.

    However, some doctors and harm reduction workers say that given the city’s opioid crisis, police should be able to administer naloxone if they come across an overdose, since paramedics aren’t always the first on the scene.

    “We’ve used 911 often enough to know that it’s different who’s going to end up coming first,” said Lynne Raskin, CEO of South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

    Toronto Public Health also said it would support police officers carrying naloxone.

    “Anything that expands naloxone reach in the community is helpful in addressing the overdose situation,” said spokesperson Dr. Rita Shahin, associate medical officer of health, in an emailed response.

    The OPP said their primary reason for providing officers with naloxone is to protect them in case of fentanyl exposure.

    Leon said he couldn’t comment on the Toronto police decision not to provide naloxone to its officers. But he said he recognizes that larger cities face different circumstances. The OPP often police rural areas, he said, where it can take longer for paramedics to arrive.

    “We know from our experience that minutes have the potential to make a very significant different,” he said.

    Harm reduction worker Matt Johnson, who works for the Queen West Community Health Centre, said he can understand the Toronto police force’s decision. He said there aren’t many situations where an officer would need to use naloxone, particularly not on themselves.

    While naloxone would be helpful if an officer stumbled on somebody overdosing in an alleyway, Johnson said, he’d rather see cops handing it out to people who are at risk.

    Earlier this week, the Ontario government announced it is spending almost $15 million on local efforts to fight the opioid crisis. The money will be offered to local health units to hire frontline staff, as well as the distribution of an additional 80,000 naloxone kits over the next year.
    Police are already supported by paramedics who already have drug that can temporarily reverse opioid overdoses, spokesperson says.
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