Pubdate: Thu, 02 Mar 2017
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell


Officer used the nasal spray form of the drug inside Rogers

A Vancouver police officer working at a Vancouver Canucks hockey game
has become the first member of the department to use the
overdose-reversing drug naloxone on an overdose victim.

Staff Sgt. Bill Spearn of the VPD's organized crime section said the
officer was working with a partner Dec. 28 at a Canucks game at Rogers
Arena and noticed a commotion outside one of the gates involving a man
who collapsed on the ground.

"So [two officers] brought him inside Rogers Arena, he didn't have a
ticket and he appeared to be homeless," Spearn told the Courier
Thursday outside a Vancouver Police Board meeting, where he had
delivered a presentation on the opioid overdose crisis. "Our members
had been trained in the use of our nasal naloxone that we distribute
to them, and they immediately observed the signs of what they believed
was an opioid overdose."

Spearn said one of the officers used his naloxone spray on the victim,
who was in and out of consciousness and had problems breathing. About
30 seconds later, the man was alert and talking to two officers. He
admitted using heroin, which is the illegal drug mostly likely to be
laced with the deadly synthetic narcotic, fentanyl.

"I can't remember the last time I saw heroin that wasn't adulterated
with fentanyl - it's been a long time," said Spearn, a 20-year member
of the department, who noted paramedics concluded the man had suffered
an overdose. "The ambulance crew agreed that, yeah, absolutely, what
they had done was the right thing, and that they saved his life by
doing it."

More than 800 Vancouver police officers and staff are trained to use
naloxone. As of November, officers are no longer subject to an
investigation by the Independent Investigations Office for
administering naloxone or performing CPR on a victim that suffers
serious harm, or dies. The policy did not apply to paramedics and
firefighters, who also administer naloxone.

Asked if the scrapping of the policy has changed officers mindset
about using naloxone, Spearn said "our members would not walk by
somebody in need of help on the street. Really [the policy] would be
secondary in their minds. Does the change in policy help? Absolutely.
But I still don't think our members would hesitate for a moment to
jump in and do something."

Spearn's presentation to the police board revealed that 922 people
died of an overdose in B.C. in 2016, not the widely reported 914. He
said toxicology tests take time and the B.C. Coroners Service
continues to update the statistics for last year.

"You almost have to check the coroners website every day," he said.
"It's discouraging."

The coroners service reported last week that 116 people died in B.C.
in January, with 45 of those in Vancouver. For February, Spearn said,
the number of deaths appears to be decreasing, with 15 in Vancouver as
of Thursday.

He traced the beginning of the crisis back to Thanksgiving Day in
2014, when staff at the Insite supervised drug injection site reported
an unusual spike in overdoses. Police rushed a sample of the drug
being used in the area to a Health Canada lab and determined the
presence of fentanyl.

Since that incident, the VPD has focused its drug squads' work on
getting fentanyl off the street, completing six projects, including a
recent operation Feb. 3. In one of those investigations, a 53-year-old
man was sentenced to 13 years and 144 days for drug offences, largely
connected to the possession and selling of fentanyl.

In that case, a medical doctor testified that much of the blame for
the opioid crisis can be traced to medical doctors over-prescribing
opioids as pain medication. Dr. Mark Kennedy said doctors were
convinced by prescription drug companies in the 1990s that opioid
painkillers were effective and rarely caused addiction.

As doctors began to understand the risks, they started to cut patients
off their prescriptions. This led to people turning to the street to
find their drugs, which increased the demand for heroin and oxycodone.

As Spearn explained in his presentation, it was in 2012 that drug
manufacturers developed a newer, safer form of oxycodone, which
couldn't be crushed and injected. So dealers began using fentanyl in
place of oxycodone and sold it as oxycontin. Drug users didn't know
they were buying fentanyl.

Although enforcement is part of combatting the overdose crisis, Spearn
told board members that police continue to lobby for
treatment-on-demand for drug users. More work also has to be done on
prevention and education, he said.

"This is a complex issue and the VPD can't solve it by arresting its
way out of it," he said.

Vancouver firefighters have administered naloxone 177 times since the
department began using the injectable form of the drug last spring,
according to Jonathan Gormick, public information officer for
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.
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