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Ontario Provincial Police officers issued naloxone kits, required to wear protective gear during drug busts

By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press

A naloxone kit. (SUBMITTED)

A naloxone kit. (SUBMITTED)

A growing fentanyl crisis has prompted Ontario Provincial Police to issue officers naloxone kits and require them to wear protective gear on drug busts.

But officers in urban forces, like London’s, are still waiting to hear from the province about funding and discuss the tricky role of Ontario’s police watchdog.

“Our officers can save someone’s life. We want them to have that option,” Joe Couto, director of communications for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said. “What worries us is a patchwork of services across the province.”

Fentanyl is an opioid so deadly even exposure to the powder through the air can lead to overdose symptoms.

Naloxone reverses the effects of an overdose and is now available in Ontario in a nasal spray, not just as an injection.

Each OPP frontline officer is being issued a kit with two doses of naloxone nasal spray while on duty, and officers in the drug enforcement and community street crime units will be issued personal kits, the OPP announced Friday.

The main purpose of the kits is officer safety, but officers will be trained to use it on a member of the public, the OPP said.

That’s one of the sticky points facing officers, Couto said.

Officers who use nalaxone on members of the public could be investigated by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, and that may discourage some officers, worried about being second-guessed if something goes wrong, Couto said.

“We understand the SIU’s position. But don’t want an officer to be in the position of hesitating to save someone’s life.”

The association has asked the province to consider funding police forces for the naloxone kits so each force can decide if they want to go ahead, Couto said.

Barrie and Durham Region are among the forces already carrying the opioid antidote. 

Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose for about 20 minutes to one hour, depending on the strength of the opioid. 

London’s police force is still researching the idea, spokesperson Const. Sandasha Bough said.

The force does have protective gear available for officers on drug investigations, she said.

For OPP, it will now be mandatory for officers to wear a respiratory mask, safety glasses or goggles, nitrile gloves and long sleeve shirt or jacket while conducting suspected drug searches, seizures and/or sampling.

“With the increased prevalence of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues and synthetic opioid powders on our streets, there is a very real danger of exposure and these steps are being taken to ensure the safety of those we serve and our officers,” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said in the release.

Health Canada tests determined that fentanyl was present in 114 OPP seizures in 2016, and so far this year the number of seizures involving fentanyl is on par, the OPP said.