Police plan to carry fentanyl antidote as deadly drug hits Winnipeg

The Winnipeg Police Service plans to carry the overdose remedy naloxone in the wake of three suspected fentanyl overdose deaths over the past week.

Police say fentanyl suspected in three overdoses over past week; naloxone to aid OD victims, police officers

Police plan to carry the antidote to fentanyl, both to treat overdose victims in a timely manner and to aid police who may ingest airborne particles. (CBC)

The Winnipeg Police Service plans to carry the overdose remedy naloxone in the wake of three suspected fentanyl overdose deaths over the past week.

Deputy Chief Danny Smyth says that the wave of fentanyl overdoses that started in British Columbia has finally reached Winnipeg.

"We've certainly had fentanyl here in the city probably for the better part of two, almost three years. We weren't seeing the incidence of overdose that we were seeing in jurisdictions like British Columbia and Alberta," Smyth said following a Winnipeg Police Board meeting at city hall on Friday.

"We have a more co-ordinated effort now with the medical examiner's office and with (Manitoba) Health. So we're starting to see more overdoses and we're starting to co-ordinate our tracking of it," Smyth said. "It's hitting the radar now because we're seeing more of it."

Smyth said the police are working out the logistics involved in carrying naloxone and hope to be able to administer the fentanyl antidote to both overdose victims and police officers who may get exposed to particles of the highly potent synthetic drug.

Either fentanyl or its more potent chemical analogue, carfentanil, are suspected in the deaths of two men found in a car parked near a school last week. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service's hazardous materials unit was on site in the event airborne fentanyl particles were present in the vehicle, Smyth said.

Never before have the police encountered a chemical so potent that they must take precautions against ingesting minute quantities of airborne particles, said Smyth, pointing to a U.S. incident where the police use of a stun grenade created a dangerous situation at an illicit drug laboratory. 

"Through the impact it released particles in the air, and some of the members were overcome by that," Smyth said.

Smyth said police are working out protocols for entering vehicles and homes where they suspect the presence of fentanyl.

While paramedics already carry naloxone, the Winnipeg Police Service must work out the costs involved and also determine a means of ensuring the antidote stays warm enough to remain potent, Smyth said. 

"One of the challenges for us in our jurisdiction is the fact it has to be temperature-controlled. We live in a climate where we see extreme temperatures, so we have to figure out how our officers will be able to carry naloxone so it will be effective," he said.

Smyth also said the police hope to assist in efforts of making the public more aware drug traffickers are using fentanyl to make cocaine and non-synthetic opiates more potent.

"It doesn't make good business sense, does it, to potentially harm your clients? But at the end of the day, drug trafficking is about making money," he said.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.