Pubdate: Sat, 23 Dec 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Jennifer Bieman
Page: A2


Liability issues make area police, firefighters wary of administering
opioid overdose antidote

Naloxone for all? Not so fast.

The province's newly-announced plan to equip front-line police
officers and firefighters with the potentially lifesaving opioid
overdose antidote free-of-charge isn't without its drawbacks, critics
say - and emergency responders across Southwestern Ontario are divided
on how to handle it.

Sarnia officers have already saved one life by administering naloxone,
an injectable or inhalable emergency drug that blocks the affects of
opioid overdose.

But Hamilton police say administering the antidote is a job that's
best left to paramedics, and they're not the only force reticent to
dive into the debate.

Windsor's police and fire departments aren't rushing to push the
fast-acting drug to rank and file members over concerns about legal
backlash and the possibility of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU)
investigation if they administer the drug to a person in distress and
it fails.

"The reality is there is a risk of liability and criminal
investigation as a result of an officer potentially administering
naloxone," said Windsor Deputy Chief Vince Power.

"I know that some services are reviewing it and certainly we are
reviewing it right now."

London's fire department is one of them.

Fire officials in London are busy determining if - or when - its
firefighters should carry the antidote and what training they'll need
to administer the drug.

"It came out very quickly for us, we will be heading in a direction
shortly one way or another," said deputy chief Jack Burt.

"We're looking at whether we administer it to our own members or
members of the public too."

The department is liaising with its medical director of health and is
expecting to have a plan early in the new year.

"We want to make sure we're doing it correctly," said

Responding to the deepening opioid crisis in London, health officials
announced in late December they're fast-tracking pop-up overdose
prevention sites. The pop-up location - which will provide
supervision, clean needles and naloxone to illicit drug users - will
be open early next year. Meanwhile, London police are pushing ahead
with their plan to issue naloxone to officers, a decision the
department arrived at long before the provincial announcement, Deputy
Chief Darryl Longworth said.

"It's an issue we've been struggling with for the better part of a
year as we started to see more fentanyl," he said.

"For us, it comes down to officer safety and we want to make sure
officers have the tools to make sure that they're going to go home at
the end of their shift."

Like London's fire department, Longworth said police are still
developing policies for naloxone's use and wants to roll out the
antidote to front-line officers early in the new year. It's possible
the policy could stipulate that the fast-acting opioid blocker could
only be used on officers in distress.

"Time will tell as we develop the procedure and we determine what the
best thing for the organization and the community is going to be,"
said Longworth.

In Sarnia and St. Thomas, officers are already packing nasal spray
naloxone primarily for officers who come into contact with the deadly
opioid on the job - but officers are also prepared to step in and help
civilians if needed.

"If we find someone in distress and paramedics are not readily
available or not there immediately, then we will take care of that
person as well," said Sarnia police Const. Giovanni Sottosanti.

"We do realize that there is SIU potential . . . . But saving a life
is a very important thing, and that's how we look at it. If we have
the ability, why wouldn't we?"

Sarnia's front-line police officers have carried naloxone for about
four to five months. In the summer, a Sarnia officer administered
naloxone to a person who had overdosed. They were resuscitated and
checked out by paramedics, Sottosanti said.

Sottosanti wants to see the province set out some guidelines for
police forces as they navigate potential liability concerns. There is
a significant gap that needs to be addressed, he said. Longworth agrees.

"We're still going to continue to lobby the government because we're
fearful that our officers, should they make a decision to issue it to
somebody on the street . . . that they're (not) protected from any
kind of criminal investigation from the SIU as well as any kind of
civil protection," he said.

"It would be nice if the ministry came out with some consistent
procedures around naloxone."

Until there is, one Toronto-based police liability lawyer says,
departments are opening the door to potential legal trouble.

"The reality is that police operate under a microscope of scrutiny,"
said Rafal Szymanski, a partner at Blaney McMurtry LLP who specializes
in defending police in civil court.

"If we look at the case of an unsuccessful dose of naloxone, questions
will arise of whether the officer properly or even promptly
administered the dose . . . . It does create some risk of getting
sued. . . . It certainly is a serious consideration that they'll have
to weigh."

- - With files from the Windsor Star
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