Sask. doctors urge police officers to carry fentanyl antidote

Powdered fentanyl can be deadly, particularly when unsuspecting people inhale airborne particles. That's why the RCMP are now issuing Naloxone kits to every officer across Canada. Now doctors in Saskatchewan are urging municipal officers in Saskatoon and Regina to also consider carrying the kits.

Naloxone kits will soon be issued to every RCMP officer

Narcan kits usually contain doses of naloxone, syringes, gloves, and instructions on how to use it. The drug is a brand-name of naloxone, an opiate blocker which RCMP officers across Canada will soon carry during each shift. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Along with guns and two-way radios, RCMP officers in Saskatchewan will soon be carrying Naloxone kits.

While Naloxone is more readily available in Saskatchewan than it was a year ago, but First Nations chiefs want the province and federal government to fund treatment centres, and do more to fight the opioid crisis. (PunchingJudy/Flickr)

The kits come as nasal sprays or as intravenous injections, and are touted as lifesavers. They block the effects of opiate drugs for up to 30 minutes, and are touted as lifesavers for those who overdose on fentanyl, or who ingest it accidentally.

Fentanyl can be up to 100 times stronger than heroin. Doctors say ingesting even just a few grains of the powder can lead to death.

The move follows cases of officers in British Columbia accidentally inhaling fentanyl particles while doing check stops and interviewing suspects. 

"Any amount in pure form or even in cut form can be lethal," said RCMP Cpl. Eric Boechler, who works on the national police force's enforcement and response team for clandestine labs. "It can go through the skin and be fatal even in very small doses."

A boy in the van wasn't injured and a woman, 56, was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries, RCMP say. (CBC)

In Saskatchewan last year, 21 people overdosed on fentanyl and died. Of those, 11 overdoses took place in Saskatoon. 

Paramedics in Saskatoon and Regina already carry the antidote. However, municipal police officers do not.

Confirmed drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl in Saskatchewan

  • 2013 — 10
  • 2014 — 11
  • 2015 — 21

No kits for Saskatoon, Regina police officers

"We have not been seeing fentanyl in the powdered form," said Saskatoon Police Service spokesperson Alyson Edwards. "If we should begin to see it that way, we would have to re-examine the naloxone question."

Alyson Edwards, director of public affairs for the Saskatoon Police Service. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Doctors and advocates for harm reduction say even so, police officers are often the first to a scene, and carrying naloxone could save lives.

"If the RCMP can train their officers to do it, well then why can't our city police?" said Dr. Wendy Gore-Hickman. She said the antidote is not known to be harmful.

"We should be more proactive instead of always just reacting. I mean this wave of fentanyl is coming — it's coming to Saskatchewan," said Gore-Hickman.

Dr. Peter Butt, an addictions consultant with the Saskatoon Health Region agrees.

"In all likelihood, it will be coming in a more concentrated powder on the streets of Saskatchewan, and I would expect that in time, we will be seeing more overdoses as well," Butt told CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition.

Dr. Butt explained that the powder fentanyl is showing up more in B.C., Alberta and Ontario due to where the drug is imported from and how it's distributed.

Other treatment options available

Dr. Butt said although methadone is commonly used to treat people with opiate addictions, there are other options that aren't being used as often as they should.

One option is Suboxone, which has been approved for use in Canada since 2007.

"It is a much safer medication compared to methadone," Dr. Seonaid Nolan, an addictions physician in Vancouver, said. 

"It's also a much easier medication for patients to have what we call take-home dosing, where they don't necessarily have to present to their pharmacy every day for daily witnessed ingestion."

However, it's not covered under Saskatchewan's provincial drug plan.