In a proactive step intended to curb the growing opioid crisis, Ottawa police have now equipped more than 600 officers with the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone.
Previously, only officers in the drug unit were equipped with naloxone. But now, almost half of the 1,350 sworn members of the Ottawa Police Service have been trained through a pilot project on how to use it, according to Darren MacPherson, the force's acting manager of health, safety and lifestyles.
Most of the 600 officers are frontline patrol officers, but now officers who who work in the tactical, street crime, court security and the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) units also carry it.
School resource officers and some canine unit officers are also part of the recently expanded rollout.
The powerful opioid fentanyl can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine and has often been the cause of overdose deaths.
Pills laced with the deadly drug were found next to the body of an Ottawa teenager on Feb. 12 of this year. In a separate incident four days later, 12 people were arrested in what police described as the biggest fentanyl drug bust in the city's history.
In recent months, the opioid crisis has prompted firefighters, paramedics, Ontario Provincial Police officers, high schools, and music festivals to either start carrying naloxone or boost their supply of it. Administering the drug can reverse the effects of an overdose and save a person's life.
So far, no Ottawa police officer has had to administer naloxone, but according to MacPherson, it's "just a matter of time."
"We've seen in Ottawa incidents where opioid exposure fatalities have occurred," MacPherson said.
"Our first responder partners have responded to scenes and had to administer naloxone. So, it was really a decision to be proactive and be cognizant of the risks there around us in the community."
With an average of two opioid-related deaths in Ontario every day, public health officials across the province have been equipping more first responders with naloxone.
In Ottawa, drug overdoses accounted for some 700 emergency room visits in the first half of 2017.
Ottawa police use naloxone kits with two doses of the nasal spray version of the drug. At $100 per kit, it's a valuable investment, MacPherson said.
As the cost of the antidote has decreased, it's become easier to provide it to more officers, he added.
MacPherson said Ottawa police will make more naloxone kits avaiable as additional police officers are trained on how to use them.