If police use naloxone and someone dies, will they be in trouble?

Earlier this month, the province announced it would be equipping frontline emergency workers with overdose antidote kits. But London Police Association executive director Rick Robson is concerned officers will now be subject to increased scrutiny from Ontario's Special Investigations Unit.

London Police Association worries what happens after an officer deals with an overdose victim

Rick Robson is the executive director of the London Police Association (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

Rick Robson agrees. There's an opioid crisis in this province.

And the executive director of the London Police Association believes officers should carry naloxone kits.

"The police have a role in this particular issue, I understand that." 

But Robson said the problem is what happens after an officer deals with someone who is overdosing. "The difficulty becomes, the actions of the police officer will be under criminal scrutiny by the SIU."

The province's Special Investigations Unit is a civilian law enforcement agency. According to its website, "It conducts investigations of incidents involving the police that have resulted in death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault."

Robson said that leaves officers in between a rock and a hard place. He said there are two scenarios: 

  • An officer attempts to help an overdose victim by administering naloxone. The victim still dies or suffers serious injury.
  • The officer doesn't administer naloxone and the end result is the same.

Either way, Robson said the SIU will conduct a criminal investigation into the actions of the police.

Under the provincial plan, other frontline workers such as firefighters and paramedics will also carry naloxone kits.

"However, only one group in that list will be subject to criminal investigation should they actually administer naloxone," said Robson.

"It seems to lack a little bit of common sense where if a police (officer) and a firefighter are standing side by side at an overdose — both have naloxone — the firefighter administers the naloxone, there's not going to be a criminal investigation by the police of the firefighter. But if the police administer naloxone there's going to be a criminal investigation of the police by the SIU." 

Plus, Robson said these days the SIU is struggling to complete its investigations in a timely manner. Many, he said, take up to a year and a half.

Compared to 2016, there was a 90 per cent increase in the opioid-related deaths of men between the ages of 15 and 44 in Ontario. (CBC) (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

While Robson sees the value in officers carrying naloxone, he adds the province needs to spend more money on treatment after someone overdoses.

"They'll be taken down to the hospital, they'll be watched medically, they'll be cleared medically ideally, and they'll be on their way. There is no treatment after the fact, so that person is going to right back into the scenario and the situation that they were in before and the lifestyle."

For its part, the province's police watchdog said legal implications exist for all first responders who use naloxone, including police officers. 

"Whenever a police officer, firefighter or other first responder uses first aid measures, including naloxone, on someone in good faith, to the extent that any liability issues arise, they are addressed between the employer and the employee," press secretary to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yanni Dagonas wrote in an email to CBC News.  

"Police officers are distinct from other first responders in terms of the level of oversight as police officers have powers far beyond those of other first responders."

"As such, when a serious injury or death occurs during a police interaction, regardless of circumstance, the SIU will decide whether to invoke its mandate and perform an investigation," wrote Dagonas. 


  • In an earlier version of this story, Yanni Dagonas was identified as a spokesperson for the SIU. He is the press secretary to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
    Dec 12, 2017 2:30 PM ET