Risk to first responders highlighted by 2 recent drug exposures
Groups representing paramedics say not enough is being done, but there are no easy answers
First responders are raising the alarm after two recent incidents of exposure to drugs in Calgary.
A paramedic was hospitalized in the intensive care unit and still faces serious health issues after he was recently exposed to an unknown substance, while a Calgary Transit officer was taken to hospital over the weekend after he came into contact with a drug.
- Calgary Transit officer sent to hospital after contact with unknown drug
- Calgary paramedic 'critically ill' after drug exposure, says professional association
"It's exceptionally alarming for paramedics, because dispatchers often don't know if a drug is on scene, what form it is and what concentration," said Marc Moebis, the executive director of the Alberta Paramedics Association.
The APA has started a fundraising campaign for the affected paramedic, identified as Ryan B, but hasn't released details on the event in question or whether opioids were the cause of the medical distress.
'You will still be very ill'
Moebis, however, does say specific drugs pose a significant risk.
"Paramedics routinely come into contact with drugs and they do have some expertise. The problem with fentanyl and carfentanil is it can be miniscule so it can be almost impossible to prepare for it, deal with it, even notice it sometimes."
He said even with naloxone on hand to treat the effects of opioids like fentanyl, further care is still required.
"You will still be very ill," he said, adding it could involve days in the intensive care unit.
Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union representing hospital workers in the province, said not enough is being done to protect frontline workers.
He also said the incident involving Ryan B. is being investigated by Occupational Health and Safety.
Premier Rachel Notley said her government is aware of the safety concerns.
"We are working very closely with first responders — police, firefighters, other emergency personnel — to ensure that they are kept safe as well as ensuring that they are given all the tools at their disposal to keep Albertans safe," she said.
Notley said the government is also increasing access to addictions treatment, creating safe injection sites and working with the medical community to address opiate prescription practices.
"What we want to do is make sure that we've found the best tools available to keep Albertans safe from this very, very troubling development in illegal drug use and proliferation of this particular drug in the province," she said in reference to fentanyl.
"So we'll do what we have to do until it's dealt with."
Moebis said there is no easy answer to the issue and it's not simply a matter of asking for a quick fix.
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With files from Silvana Benolich and Rebecca Kelly