Winnipeg fire trucks equipped with life-saving drug Naloxone

Winnipeg's firefighters are saving lives in a new way — around one week ago, fire trucks started carrying Naloxone, a drug that is capable of reversing the effects of an opiate overdose.

In first 10 days drug saved a life, says Alex Forrest, president of the United Firefighters of Winnipeg

Fire trucks in Winnipeg are now equipped with Naloxone, also known as brand name Narcan, which works as an antidote to an opiate overdose. (CBC)

Winnipeg's firefighters are saving lives in a new way — around one week ago, fire trucks started carrying Naloxone, an antidote to an opiate overdose.

According to Alex Forrest, president of the United Firefighters of Winnipeg, all 40 fire trucks in the city are now equipped with the drug, which is also known by its brand name Narcan, and firefighters have the training to use it.

"We're very fortunate in Winnipeg. We are the only large Canadian city that has paramedics that are trained firefighters," he said.

"They have the ability to assess and give this drug to individuals who have overdosed … in the opiate family of drugs such as morphine, heroin, fentanyl, OxyContin, codeine."

The trucks have been equipped with Narcan for 10 days and already, firefighters have saved a life, Forrest said.

"I can tell you it's probably paid for itself by saving that one person's life," he said.

100 fentanyl overdoses

According to Forrest, there were 100 overdoses in Winnipeg caused by fentanyl in 2015. Of those, 45 per cent of the individuals experienced cardiac arrest.

"What [opiates] do is basically, depress the respiratory system. These are extremely popular drugs that are on the streets of Winnipeg … Literally, you can kill yourself if you haven't put in the right amount," he said.

"This drug Narcan blocks the … dangerous effects of the opiates. So, what happens [is] the firefighters get on scene, they have the ability to diagnose and give this drug within minutes of this person overdosing."

Narcan, which is used like an EpiPen, has no negative effect if used on someone who has overdosed on drugs other than opiates. According to Forrest, that's the reason it's being used across North America.

"Even police forces have the ability to use this because that's the positive nature of this drug — there really is no negative side effects of this drug. If you haven't taken an opiate, this drug really has no effect on you," he said.

The number of overdoses, which Forrest said happen frequently in downtown Winnipeg, and the training firefighters already had, made the positive potential for the drug obvious.

"We knew this was needed on the fire trucks to be able to give this drug quicker and more efficiently to individuals who have overdosed on these horrible drugs," he said.

with files from Courtney Rutherford