Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jul 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea
Page: S1


Police forces in British Columbia are looking into equipping officers
with an overdose-reversing drug to help combat a worsening
public-health crisis, but their union head says many officers still
have hesitations about the initiative..

Departments in Vancouver and Abbotsford are considering having
front-line officers carry the intranasal version of naloxone, which
can counter the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes. Some
firefighters in Vancouver and Surrey began carrying the injectable
form of the drug early this year, and advocates have called for police
to carry it as well.

Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union, as well as
head of the British Columbia and Canadian police associations, said
officers aren't trained to provide medical assistance, and discussions
will need to take place about the appropriateness of such a change. He
also noted that officers who provide the drug to someone who dies
would be subject to investigation by the province's police watchdog.

"I would have a lot of questions around any initiative like that,
about the risk and potential liability for police officers," Mr.
Stamatakis said. "I would be concerned about police officers
undertaking any activity that exposes them to more risk."

Naloxone is currently available only as an injection, though Health
Canada has fast-tracked an easier-to-use nasal spray version, which
should be available soon.

Very few police officers in Canada currently carry

Scott Pattison, spokesman for the Edmonton Police Service, said
officers there began carrying the drug "after recognizing the extreme
dangers associated to fentanyl and the potential for our officers to
come into contact with the lethal drug."

Unlike paramedics and firefighters, police officers in B.C. are
subject to investigation by the province's Independent Investigations
Office, or IIO, in any instance where a person they interact with dies
or is seriously harmed.

Mr. Stamatakis pointed to two recent incidents - on Salt Spring Island
and in Abbotsford - in which police officers were investigated after
performing CPR on people who later died. In those cases, the IIO found
that the officers were not involved in any wrongdoing, and it released
jurisdiction in two and 10 days, respectively.

The possibility of being investigated has an impact on officers'
behaviour, he said.

"The effect of that is it just breeds this reluctance within the
police community to get involved, and that's absolutely not the
environment we want," Mr. Stamatakis said. "We want police officers to
be engaged, to be pro-active, to respond quickly when there's an issue."

Aidan Buckley, a spokesman for the IIO, said the role of the office is
not to limit police but rather enhance policing by ensuring public
confidence. "The IIO must investigate to identify if there is any
connection between police action/inaction and the death or serious
injury," he wrote in an e-mail.

"The mere presence of the IIO on a scene does not suggest officers did
anything wrong. Once the IIO concludes that there is no connection
between police action/inaction and the death or serious harm, then the
IIO will release jurisdiction."

Vancouver police spokesman Constable Brian Montague said the
department had safety concerns about administering the injectable
naloxone but is open to the nasal spray version. He also acknowledged
the hesitation some officers might feel about getting involved and
subjecting themselves to the possibility of being investigated.

"The IIO is someone we're going to have a conversation with to see how
scenarios might play out," he said. "To be investigated for trying to
do the right thing can be stressful, even if it's only for a few days."

Sergeant Judy Bird, a spokeswoman for the Abbotsford Police
Department, said the investigations can be "stressful and horrible,"
but she doesn't think they deter officers from stepping in when needed.

"It's a huge burden, but it's not going to stop us from doing our
jobs," she said.

The RCMP in B.C., which did not make a representative available for an
interview, said in a statement it is reviewing its policy regarding
Mounties carrying and administering naloxone.

Illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. have climbed in recent years,
reaching 484 in 2015. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is
often cut into drugs and ingested unknowingly, is now detected in more
than half of such deaths.
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