Hamilton's police chief will not equip front-line officers with life-saving anti-overdose kits, even though the local police union says it would help protect its officers.

Members of police forces across the country have used naloxone on themselves and members of the public who've been exposed to fentanyl. And Clint Twolan, Hamilton Police Association president, says officers should be issued the kits for their own protection.

Twolan said his position has "changed, admittedly, over time."

As he's learned more about the potency of the drugs, Twolan said he's shifted his position from believing that only paramedics and firefighters should have the naloxone kits.

"I realized the risk that our frontline officers and our civilians as well are put in," he said.

"My hesitation is: We are not in the business of administering medication to people," Twolan said. "We're not doctors. We're not paramedics."

But he said having the antidote available is "no different" than police performing CPR on someone in cardiac arrest.

More first responders have begun signing up to carry the kits, but Girt said in March he didn't want local officers to carry it.

CBC Hamilton asked to speak with Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt about whether his position had changed in light of other jurisdictions' use of the kit, and about Twolan's call for officers to carry them.

"The chief's position has not changed," said Staff Sgt. Andrea Torrie in an email response.

Police using naloxone elsewhere, on themselves and the public

Police across Ontario have saved lives with the kits in recent months.

  • Brantford police used it on a man in Brantford in February.
  • Durham police used it on a woman in Oshawa.
  • Waterloo police used it on a 50-year-old man in Cambridge last month.
  • Barrie firefighters used it in March.

naloxone-syringe-needle

Some naloxone kits include equipment to inject the antidote to an opioid overdose. Others include a nasal spray containing the antidote. (CBC News)

Peterborough, Barrie and Durham front-line officers are carrying the kits. Windsor police are considering it. Last week, the Ontario Provincial Police announced it will equip all front-line officers and some special drug enforcement teams with naloxone kits.

The Canada Border Service Agency is looking at its policies around border agents and fentanyl after scares in Fort Erie and Montreal. And in Winnipeg, three officers last month self-administered naloxone after a possible exposure when they went to respond to a car crash.

Chief: Leave the antidote to paramedics

When laying out his position in March, Girt said that in Hamilton, paramedics are on scene nearly simultaneously with police, and they're "better equipped to discern what the nature of the medical response is."

Naloxone is an antidote that can reverse the harmful effects of an opioid-related overdose for up to an hour, depending on the strength of the drug. 

When injected into a person who is overdosing on prescription opioids, including morphine, heroin, or fentanyl, the naloxone can reverse the effects for about 10 minutes – long enough to get the victim to an emergency room.

Opioid-related deaths are rising in Hamilton. There were 24 deaths in the first six months of 2016, preliminary numbers from the Office of the Chief Coroner show.

The year earlier, in 2015, there were 46 deaths – which was the highest number of deaths in a decade. 

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca