Toronto police still undecided if officers should carry lifesaving naloxone kits

Ontario has offered police services access to the kits in response to the growing number of opioid-related deaths, but the province's largest municipal police force is lukewarm to the idea

In response to troubling new data showing a 68 per cent increase in opioid-related deaths in Ontario, the provincial government will offer free naloxone kits to police services and fire departments across the province. Yet, whether Toronto police officers will carry the lifesaving kits that reverse the effects of an overdose remains an open question. 

Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash says “we’re going to look at this very, very closely,” but is non-committal on when a decision might be made to equip officers, or if the province’s largest municipal police force will follow the lead of other jurisdictions and outfit rank and file officers with the kits. 

Toronto firefighters have been carrying the naloxone nasal spray since October and Ontario Provincial Police officers have been carrying it since June. In Ottawa, around 600 officers have been equipped with naloxone since August. 

The Toronto Police Association (TPA), the union representing Toronto police, has been advocating for over a year now for officers to be equipped with naloxone “for public safety and for [their own] safety,” says TPA president Mike McCormack. “We’ve seen in other jurisdictions, like in Vancouver, where officers have been infected by a small amount of fentanyl. One officer was contaminated by granulars that were on a jacket.”

The reasons for Toronto’s reluctance are unclear. Mayor John Tory supports the idea of officers carrying the kits and as part of the Toronto Overdose Action Plan, which was released in March, the Board of Health requested the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care provide nasal naloxone to first responders.  

Regarding the legal liabilities officers may face if using naloxone is unsuccessful in reversing an overdose, McCormack says the TPA would like to see some kind of guideline within the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) that would protect the officer.

There’s precedent for this kind of policy. As the Globe and Mail reported, last year in Vancouver, the Independent Investigations Office (the equivalent to the SIU in Ontario) changed its policy so officers would not be scrutinized if someone dies when naloxone is administered. 

“There is a position. If you’ve seen in other jurisdictions, we’re not re-inventing the wheel,” says McCormack.” But ultimately, McCormack says, the decision on whether to outfit Toronto officers with the kits is up to the Toronto Police Service. 

In an announcement on December 7 at Queen’s Park, Health Minister Eric Hoskins said that from May to July 2017, there were 336 opioid-related deaths in Ontario. During the same time period in 2016, there were 201, which represents a 68 percent increase this year.

Additionally from July to September 2017, there were 2,449 emergency room visits related to opioid overdoses, which is a 29 percent increase from the previous three months.

Naloxone will be available to all 61 police services and 447 fire departments in Ontario, although it’s up to each individual service if they equip their officers with the kits. | @SamEdwardsTO

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