With the number of accidental overdoses on the rise in the Vancouver, police say they are soon going to equip their officers with naloxone, an injection/nasal spray that counteracts the effects of narcotics and overdoses in an emergency situation.
The need for police to carry naloxone comes from the extreme rise in deaths related to the opioid fentanyl and the ever increasing risk of the officers coming in contact with it themselves. According to The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, between the years of 2009 and 2014 there were over 650 fentanyl related deaths. That number rose to more than 260 just between the months of January and July of this year.
“Our front line officers and support staff are coming into contact with highly toxic opioid drugs like fentanyl on an increasing basis,” says Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer. “It is essential that we provide our staff with the medication that would be necessary in the event of an accidental exposure to toxic substances.”
September 1st was a particularly grim day in the province. There were nine overdoses called in within a 20-minute time period from users who thought they were taking cocaine and were unaware of the fentanyl mixed in. Amazingly, no one died from these overdoses due to the quick work of first responders, but one person did go into cardiac arrest.
“Is the risk that you’re taking worth the reward that you’re getting? every time you’re doing this you’re literally playing Russian roulette, Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord said to CTV News. You’ve got a loaded revolver with one bullet in it and you’re pulling the trigger each and every time you use drugs.”
Dubord said he is frustrated that drug dealers are cutting their product with fentanyl to increase profits while running the elevated risk of actually killing their clients.
Earlier this year, B.C. declared a public health emergency due to the large increase of drug overdoses. Declarations of public health emergencies are normally reserved for things such as disease outbreaks.
Meanwhile, Crown prosecutors are trying to stop the fentanyl crisis at the source. Walter McCormick, a BC drug dealer who was arrested around the start of the fentanyl outbreak in 2014 is currently facing 18 years in prison His lawyer, Lawrence Meyers, says the law needs to go higher up the food chain.
“We have to refrain from the lynch-mob mentality that is that if we hang Mr. McCormick out to dry then that will solve our problem,” he told News 1130 recently. “We’ve been dealing with drugs for 40 years, both here and in the United States.”
The Canadian government has plans to regulate and restrict key components in the production of fentanyl by late 2017, but that may not be soon enough. There are also concerns that when fentanyl supplies run dry that an even more harmful drug will take its place, just as fentanyl did when OxyContin supplies waned.
Meanwhile, supervised injection sites have also extended their hours of operation during this overdose epidemic to help combat the extreme circumstances. The sites will be open 24 hours a day from Wednesday to Friday on weeks where social assistance cheques are issued.