British Columbia

Why police in Vancouver don't attend most drug overdose calls

'If you ... ask for an ambulance, you're going to get an ambulance,' says Const. Brian Montague.

'If you ... ask for an ambulance, you're going to get an ambulance,' says Const. Brian Montague

Vancouver Const. Brian Montague made a special point Thursday of reassuring drug users that calling 911 for an overdose will not bring the police. (CBC)

In the midst of what's been called a public health emergency, Vancouver police want to make it known they do not attend most calls involving overdoses.

Const. Brian Montague, media relations officer, delivered the message on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

"If you pick up the phone and ask for an ambulance, you're going to get an ambulance and you're not going to get a police officer unless one is needed," he said.

Montague said police typically only attend overdose-related calls if there is a threat to safety or a death has occurred.

By adopting this strategy, he said the agency hopes drug users won't ever be too afraid of getting into trouble when they call 911.

"We're not just getting calls from hard core drug users. We're getting calls from 16 and 17 year olds who are experimenting with drugs," he said.

The B.C Coroner's office indicated, from January to the end of May of this year, there have already been 308 deaths directly related to drug overdoses.

Solving the overdose crisis

To curb the escalating number of people who are dying, Vancouver Coastal Health recently applied for five additional supervised injection sites — a strategy Montague says police support but don't believe is the only solution.

"We have people overdosing around the corner and down the street," said Montague referring to the supervised injection sites Insite in the Downtown Eastside.

"Because the drug is so powerful, the addiction is so strong, that they can't wait or won't wait to walk a block to do that injection."

When officers do come across someone who is overdosing, they are not able to reverse the overdose by injecting the drug naloxone, which is administered by other first responders like paramedics and fire fighters.

Montague said there are concerns that it could be "hazardous" to officers since they are not health professionals.

He says the agency has written a letter asking Health Canada to expedite the nasal spray version of the drug.

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Why police don't attend overdose calls