Front-line Edmonton cops outfitted with fentanyl antidote

Edmonton's front-line police officers are being outfitted with a fentanyl-antidote to help overdosing drug-users — and to protect themselves.

Naloxone will protect EPS officers from accidental on-the-job fentanyl exposure, police chief says

Edmonton's front-line police officers are equipped with the Fentanyl-antidote Naloxone to save drug users - and themselves - from overdoses. (Stefan Labbe/ CBC)

Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht says he's worried about the uniformed men and women caught in the trenches of Alberta's fentanyl crisis.

His front-line officers are training to use naloxone on overdosing drug-users — and to protect themselves.

"It's tremendously concerning," Knecht said. "It's scary stuff."

Naloxone is an antidote to fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that killed nearly 200 Albertans in the first half of this year.

Police can come in contact with fentanyl by accident, Knecht said, and risk side effects just by touching items contaminated with the drug. 

Fentanyl is so powerful that a single grain can have serious consequences. 

Overdose symptoms include breathing problems, clammy skin, trouble talking and severe drowsiness. 

An RCMP video about two B.C. officers who suffered on-the-job exposure to fentanyl has left Knecht especially anxious.

In a video released by RCMP in September, Kelowna Const. Dawn Adams talks about suffering dizziness and nausea after accidental exposure to drugs. (RCMP/YouTube)

One of the officers, Const. Dawn Adams, said white powder exploded onto her face after she unfolded a piece of paper she found near a slumped-over man.

Adams began to feel dizzy and nauseous. She had trouble standing upright.

"It was a feeling of helplessness," Adams said in the video.

"It takes a second for you to be exposed and another second for you to die. And we all want to go home at the end of the night."

Adams recovered from her symptoms after taking a dose of naloxone.

'Off-the-scale dangerous'

Fentanyl overdoses crept onto the radar of police in Alberta in 2011, when six people died after taking the drug.

Within four years, the annual death toll multiplied more than 40 times, reaching 257 fatalities in 2015.

Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht says front-line officers risk the side effects of fentanyl by touching items contaminated with the drug. (CBC)

Knecht said he's baffled by the drug.

"Why would anyone want anything to do with this drug? Because it's just so immensely dangerous. It's off-the-scale dangerous," he said.

"It is so unpredictable and it has such a propensity to either damage or kill."

Alberta's provincial government has dedicated nearly $750,000 to groups that want to open safe drug-use facilities that could reduce the number of overdose deaths. 

Public consultation for four injection sites in Edmonton is scheduled for two weeks in early 2017, following a unanimous decision by a city committee in favour of the idea.

Knecht said he's ready to back the project after touring Vanouver's Insite clinic, the first safe-injection site of its kind in Canada.

"We want a safe-injection site that gets these people to a safer place, that gets them off drugs."

For now, Knecht added the best protection for front-line police officers is still naloxone.