Police not sold on free provincial naloxone kits
The province is offering to equip frontline police officers across Ontario with potentially life-saving naloxone kits, just months after Hamilton’s own service rejected the idea.
The province announced the offer Thursday of free nasal spray kits for police and fire departments, calling it a necessary response to a growing opioid overdose crisis.
Hamilton is considered an overdose epidemic hot spot.
Opioid-related accidental deaths in the city climbed four times higher in 2016 than from in 2007.
Naloxone temporarily reverses the overdose effects of opioids like fentanyl, in some cases just long enough for a person to get to the hospital.
Hamilton paramedics already carry the kits, as do firefighters for their own protection.
Police Chief Eric Girt said in March his officers would not carry the temporary antidotes, arguing police are not health-care providers and citing liability concerns.
On Thursday, the service issued a statement that says police appreciate the offer and the province’s “proactive approach,” but added “there is still a need to review details relating to supplies, storage and appropriate administration of the drug.”
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services confirmed Thursday the naloxone rollout is optional. It is up to individual service leaders to decide whether to use the offered kits.
Police board chair Lloyd Ferguson called the province’s offer to fund the kits and provide nasal spray rather than injectable naloxone “helpful.” But he reiterated the chief has also outlined concerns about liability and whether an overdose victim would truthfully reveal to police what drug had been taken.
“The chief and his senior command will be discussing this. … We need more information. It may be a decision made in consultation with the board.”
The Hamilton Police Association is “absolutely supportive” of the rollout to front-line officers, said president Clint Twolan, who has previously argued the kits make sense for officer and public safety alike.
Twolan said his members are increasingly exposed to fentanyl, and police routinely respond to multiple overdose calls in a shift.
He said allowing police to carry the kits for personal protection would add “a layer of comfort.”
But he also suggested many front-line officers would not want to stop there.
“If you put it in hands of police officers, even for self-use … if I come across someone in need, I wouldn’t hesitate.”
That said, Twolan acknowledged the “dilemma” of liability facing police brass. Another “hurdle” facing his members, he said, is the prospect of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) probe if an officer uses naloxone on an overdose victim and the person dies.
Hamilton’s fire department already carries kits on emergency response trucks in case firefighters are unwittingly exposed to fentanyl or other dangerous opioids. So far, those kits have never been used.
The new provincial rollout offers the service the opportunity to equip firefighters with life-saving kits “for public use,” said fire department spokesperson Claudio Mostacci.
He said top fire department officials will review the program eligibility requirements and likely make a report to council.
The Hamilton Professional Firefighters Association is open to the idea, said president Stan Double.
“If there is an opportunity to assist in saving a life, certainly we want to have that discussion,” he said.
A ministry spokesperson said the province is offering to equip any police officer “who may reasonably encounter a situation where a person has overdosed,” but added each service will decide how many officers are eligible to carry the kits.
Fire departments are eligible for two kits per emergency vehicle.
If I come across someone in need, I wouldn’t hesitate. CLINT TWOLAN POLICE UNION
Police chief Eric Girt wants to review details.