Pubdate: Fri, 23 Feb 2018
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Molly Hayes
Page: A8


As a national opioid crisis wages on, Toronto police have decided to
equip their downtown frontline officers with the opioid antidote naloxone.

"This is about life and death, and that's what we signed up to do,"
Chief Mark Saunders told the Toronto Police Services Board at their
meeting Thursday.

Chief Saunders was tasked last year with submitting a report to the
board on how the service might go about deploying the antidote, which
can be used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

It's an operational issue - and not one the police service needs
permission from the board to implement. But it is one that Chief
Saunders stressed on Thursday he was keen for their input on.

His plan - one that was supported by the board - is to start with a
"strategic" deployment of naloxone to about 1,000 officers - including
all frontline officers in downtown divisions, where supervised
injection sites are located, as well as supervisors in surrounding
divisions and select units.

Chief Saunders cautioned that there are a number of continuing issues
at play. His primary concern is around liability for officers who do
administer naloxone to someone having an overdose. In cases where the
person dies, officers could be subject to investigation by the
province's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

While the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has pushed the SIU
to exempt officers from having to report to them in these cases - as
the Independent Investigations Office in British Columbia agreed last
year to do - the SIU has consistently said it will continue to invoke
its mandate in these cases.

On Thursday, TPS Superintendent Scott Bishop emphasized the
"significant or potentially significant" administrative effect that
these investigations could have on the service, and the mountain of
paperwork he argues it could create.

According to Chief Saunders's report, police arrive to overdose calls
ahead of firefighters and paramedics (both of whom already carry
naloxone) in just 2.7 per cent of cases. Board member Uppala
Chandrasekera suggested this makes the SIU concern less urgent.

The adoption of naloxone kits has varied among police services across
the country. In British Columbia, where the opioid crisis has hit
hardest, police in Vancouver and neighbouring Surrey have made the
kits available to all officers.

However, Vancouver police have a policy not to attend overdose calls -
and as a result, the primary reason that police carry naloxone is in
case of accidental exposure to drugs such as fentanyl or carfentanil
(drugs so potent that mere grains are enough to be lethal.)

"That said, if an officer who is carrying naloxone happens to come
across someone they believe is suffering from an overdose, then they
obviously won't just stand there and watch the person perish," former
Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Constable Brian Montague told
The Globe and Mail in an e-mail in December.

Nick Boyce, director of the Ontario HIV and Substance Use Training
program, supports Toronto police's decision to carry naloxone - but he
hopes they might follow Vancouver's lead and stop responding to
overdose calls when unnecessary.

While Ontario passed Good Samaritan legislation last year that
provides immunity from drug or breach of probation charges to anyone
seeking emergency assistance for an overdose, he said even the fear of
police showing up can be a "huge barrier" to people with addictions
needing to call 911.

In Ontario, police services in Ottawa, London, Kitchener-Waterloo and
Peel Region have all distributed the kits to their officers. Others,
including York, Durham and Halton Region police services, have issued
the antidote to select officers.

The timeline for the Toronto Police Services deployment of naloxone is

The police services board also approved on Thursday to expand the
deployment of tasers to frontline officers, with strict accountability
and reporting caveats. Toronto is the last large police service in
Ontario to adopt the less-lethal weapon.
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MAP posted-by: Matt