First responders should carry naloxone, including police, says councillor

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Windsor's city council will table a report on naloxone use by first responders on Monday, but one councillor says he's disappointed to find police were not included as officers are often the first on the scene of a drug overdose.

Coun. Kieran McKenzie first asked the city to look into the implications of first responders, including police, carrying naloxone, in December 2018. Naloxone can save lives when administered to someone who has overdosed on opiods, he said.

He said the report contains a lot of a "good information," but he's a bit disappointed overall.

"I think it's fair to say that we didn't take a look at whether or not it's appropriate to equip our police service with naloxone," he said.

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

In an email statement to CBC, the city says, "police answer to the police services board so that's why they likely weren't involved in a council report."

McKenzie said he understands that "the police service or oversight of the police services falls within the jurisdiction of the police services board, made up of community members as well as members of council, but it's still the same municipally delivered service. It's a service that I think most residents would associate falls under the jurisdiction of city council."

He also said the report lays out the case that "it is appropriate for first responders, fire, I would argue, police as well as EMS, to carry and administer naloxone in the field when it is appropriate to do so."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The report states that drug-related overdoses and deaths "continue to be growing problem in North America. Of particular concern is the use of opioid drugs due to their potency and their highly addictive," adding that the "annual rate of opioid-related deaths in Ontario increased 285 per cent from 1991 to 2015."

"In 2018, there were 220 (preliminary statistic) opioid-related Emergency Department visits in Windsor & Essex County (WEC). In 2019, there were 249 opioid-related ED visits in Windsor & Essex County (WEC), which is 3.2 times greater than the 78 opioid overdose ED visits in WEC in 2007," the report continues.

It argues that "naloxone is an effective tool in reversing the effects of opioids and preventing an overdose death, provided it is given shortly after an overdose of an opioid occurs," but the administering of the drug by firefighters does not occur with often.

Not frequently used by firefighters, says report

"A poll of major fire departments in Ontario show that 2018 usage across all major departments averages less than 10 doses annually per department," the report states.

"Follow up polling for the year 2019 indicated an increase among the largest departments and those responding to combined rural and urban areas. Other departments reported low levels of usage."

It said actual usage of naloxone by fire services is dependent on a number of factors, including arrival time, type of drug used, the condition of the patient.

The report explains that it takes up to eight weeks to train the entire department on how to administer naloxone and it requires medical oversight by a doctor.

Data in the report did not include police services.

It says the local health unit and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) support the use of naloxone by first responders as a harm reduction measure.

McKenzie said he will ask why the report did not focus more on police, though he acknowledges progress is being made with that service.

"It's my understanding that that is happening already to some extent," he said.

Some WPS units carrying naloxone

Windsor Police Chief Pam Mizuno said in October that three Windsor police units were to be equipped with naloxone within a year.

A spokesperson for Windsor police confirmed that officers with three units — detention, city centre patrol and problem-oriented policing — now have access to the drug.

Mizuno's announcement came days after CBC News learned that Windsor police officers were the first to arrive on scene of a drug overdose without naloxone in-hand on at least 14 occasions last year.

"I just I think that there needs to be a clear articulation from council that we support adding that service level. And we support adding that service level robustly in a way that is both safe for all of the first responders, the police themselves, but also can add an additional layer of protection for folks in the community," McKenzie said.

He said he doesn't know what is going to happen at Monday's meeting with respect to the report, but believes it could spark an interesting debate and hopes there will be enough support to pass the motion.