OPP officers to be equipped with naloxone to fight opioid crisis

All front-line officers with the Ontario Provincial Police will now be equipped with naloxone to respond to the "emerging" problem of opioid-related overdoses.

Fentanyl present in 114 OPP drug seizures in 2016, police say

Narcan — a nasal spray version of naloxone — will now be issued to all front-line Ontario Provincial Police officers. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

All front-line officers with the Ontario Provincial Police will now be equipped with naloxone to respond to the "emerging" problem of opioid-related overdoses, the police force said Friday. 

Front-line officers who are on-duty will be given a kit with two doses of naloxone nasal spray, while officers in specialized sections, such as drug enforcement and street crime units, will each be given a personal kit, the OPP said in a media release. 

Naloxone is an antidote that can reverse the harmful effects of an opioid-related overdose for up to an hour, depending on the strength of the drug. It is freely available for the public at most pharmacies in Ottawa.

The move comes as more first responders are equipping themselves with the antidote to combat the deadly rise of overdose deaths. Ottawa's 1,500 professional and volunteer firefighters began training to administer naloxone last week in an effort to combat the city's growing opioid crisis.

Respiratory mask, safety goggles mandatory

On-duty OPP officers will be required to carry personal protective equipment when they conduct drug searches and seizures. The equipment can include a respiratory mask safety goggles, specialized nitrile gloves, and a long-sleeve shirt or jacket.

There are approximately 6,100 uniformed officers in the OPP. Police spokesperson Peter Leon told CBC News he could not comment on how many kits are being purchased. 

The potentially deadly drug fentanyl continues to be a concern for police officers, especially those working in rural communities, the OPP said.

Testing from Health Canada showed the powerful opioid was found in 114 drug seizures by the OPP last year. Test results aren't available for 2017, but police believe levels to remain the same as those in 2016. 

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes says the force has made strides in its mental health services for members, but that more needs to be done. (CBC)

"We take the health and safety of our members and our communities very seriously," OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said in the release.

"With the increased prevalence of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues and synthetic opioid powders on our streets, there is a very real danger of exposure and these steps are being taken to ensure the safety of those we serve and our officers."

The naloxone kit will be there if officers become exposed to fentanyl while on duty, or if they need to use it on a member of the public.

A report released in April by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network found the rate of opioid-related deaths in the province has almost quadrupled over the last 25 years, jumping to 734 in 2015 from 144 in 1991.