Hamilton police change course: will finally carry naloxone to battle opioid crisis

After a year of resistance, Hamilton's police chief has agreed to have front-line officers carry life-saving naloxone kits.
After a year of resistance, Hamilton's police chief says front-line officers will carry naloxone. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

After a year of resistance, Hamilton's police chief has agreed to have front-line officers carry life-saving naloxone kits.

Chief Eric Girt said Thursday that officers will receive training and carry the kits, which are used to treat opioid overdoses, in light of Hamilton's growing opioid crisis.

"Good news!" tweeted Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who sits on the police services board. "Police Chief Girt has decided to provide opioid treatment naloxone kits to front-line police officers."

It's an about-face for Girt, who said last year that a police study showed paramedics were better suited to carry naloxone.

Girt resisted even as various Ontario services deployed or are close to deploying naloxone to front-line officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and local police services in Halton, Peterborough, Durham, Barrie, Waterloo, Ottawa and Peel.

In January, the province removed another barrier by offering naloxone to all 61 police services across the province, as well as 447 municipal fire departments.

Chief Eric Girt resisted having Hamilton officers carry naloxone even though the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and local police services in Peterborough, Durham, Barrie, Waterloo, Ottawa and Peel are in various stages of rolling out a program. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The Hamilton Police Association wanted front-line officers to carry kits last year. The province's decision to expand the program, president Clint Twolan said, felt like "a turning point."

"It's a welcome decision," he said of Girt's announcement.

Officers have wanted to carry the kits to revive overdose patients they encounter on calls, Twolan said, and to protect themselves when they encounter deadly drugs on duty.

He estimates 400 to 500 officers will carry the kits. 

Hamilton firefighters carry naloxone. Earlier this month, the city's board of health approved firefighters using the kits to treat overdose victims

These moves come as Hamilton's opioid crisis appears to be growing.

In the first three months of 2018, public health officials say, there were 42 suspected opioid-related overdoses.

In 2017, 70 people died of opioid-related causes from January to October. That was up 82.9 per cent from 2016.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca