Toronto man sounds alarm about 'drastic need' for naloxone training to battle opioid overdoses

A Toronto man who claims he used the life-saving anti-opioid drug naloxone, steps from a downtown hospital, is sounding the alarm about what he says is the "drastic need" for all emergency responders to receive overdose training.

Province relaxes regulations to allow more officers to administer life-saving medication

Parkdale resident Eli Klein watched a man fall into the street due to a suspected opioid-related overdose. He says more people need to be trained to administer naloxone. (Scott Mitchell)

A Toronto man who claims he used the life-saving anti-opioid drug naloxone, steps from a downtown hospital, is sounding the alarm about what he says is the "drastic need" for all emergency responders to receive overdose training.

Parkdale resident Eli Klein was about to walk his two children to school on Monday morning when he saw a man keel over into the street in front of his home. 

"At first, it looked like he was maybe sleeping on the sidewalk, but as I approached, I saw that he was actually on the road and he was blue in the face," Klein told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday. 

When a man was overdosing across from Eli Klein's home, he ran to get the naloxone kit he keeps in his house and potentially helped save his life. Now, Eli wants others to know how important it is to identify the signs of an overdose. 8:53

Klein, who works in the music industry, is trained to use naloxone. He said he suspected the man was suffering from an overdose, so he grabbed a naloxone kit from his house and asked his partner, who is a medical professional, to administer it.

"We jumped into action because we knew that this man had a minute or two before he would go into cardiac arrest because he was already blue from a lack of oxygen," he said.

The potentially life-saving medication can temporarily block the effects of opioids and prevent overdose deaths.

When sprayed up a person's nose, Narcan nasal spray can quickly deliver a life-saving dose of the opioid antidote nalaxone through nasal membranes. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

"The reaction was instant, like within five seconds, the colour just came rushing right back into his face, his eyes started fluttering and he just started to groan a little bit, and he was suddenly back," Klein said. He later learned the man was a patient at nearby St. Joseph's Health Centre Toronto. 

Four security guards from the hospital and a police officer came to help, he said. But none had naloxone kits or knew how to administer it. 

We jumped into action because we knew that this man had a minute or two before he would go into cardiac arrest.- Eli Klein

"What I was most surprised about is that none of them seemed to know what to do," said Klein.

He said all front-line workers, such as firefighters, police officers and paramedics, should have access to naloxone amid what some are calling an epidemic of opioid overdoses on the city's streets. 

"It really just goes to show the drastic need to draw attention to this and also just increase funding, if possible." 

St. Joseph's denied CBC Toronto's request for an interview, saying staff can't comment on specific cases without patient consent. But in an email, the hospital said it is conducting a review of the incident and is committed to working with "clinicians and partners to best support patients with addictions that includes having naloxone available in our emergency department."

Opioid crisis grips Toronto

Overdose deaths have been climbing in recent years — killing nearly 4,000 Canadians in 2017 alone, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The rise in deaths in the last few years seems to be driven by illegal fentanyl, as well as overdoses resulting from using other drugs — including alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine or methamphetamines — in combination with opioids, national data suggests. 

A spring study found opioid-related deaths tripled in Ontario between 2001 and 2015. 

Nearly 4,000 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses in 2017, Public Health Agency of Canada says. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

In July, Toronto police started to give naloxone kits to uniformed officers in the city's downtown core in response to a spike in calls for opioid-related overdoses on Toronto streets. 

But only specialized squads — including the Emergency Task Force, Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force, Drug Squad and Police Dog Service — have access to naloxone. That's more than 1,000 officers, police estimate. 

Toronto firefighters and paramedics are already equipped with naloxone. 

Still, Klein would like more people to take concrete action to addressing the opioid crisis, pointing out that it can affect anyone in any city of the country. 

"Everyone should feel like it's their civic duty to go get trained," he said.

Province relaxes rules for police to deliver naloxone

Premier Doug Ford's government paved the way on Tuesday for more front-line police officers in Ontario to carry naloxone "without the fear of having a criminal investigation." 

The province revised a regulation under the Police Services Act that required police chiefs to report cases to the Special Investigations Unit when a person dies or suffers a serious injury after an officer unsuccessfully administered naloxone.

"This amendment under the Police Services Act provides fairness to police officers and will allow for a more efficient and effective use of investigative resources," Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said in a news release on Tuesday. 

The change means officers will no longer face investigation by Ontario's police watchdog provided there
was no other action that could have caused the person's death. This exemption is already given to B.C. officers.   

The SIU is responsible for investigating cases where there has been a death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault involving police.

The province has amended a regulation to ensure police officers who unsuccessfully administer naloxone will no longer face investigation by the SIU. (CBC)

The Toronto Police Association, which represents 7,500 uniform and civilian officers, previously attacked the rules, saying the oversight level did little to protect officers trying to help people who are in crisis. 

"You don't want people to hesitate. You don't want them to have any second thoughts," President Mike McCormack said in May when the Liberals first changed the regulation to curb the police watchdog from investigating certain naloxone cases. 

He applauded the decision Tuesday, calling it a "step in the right direction" to getting more officers outfitted with naloxone.

Sylvia Jones, the community safety and correctional services minister, pointed out during the announcement: "No one should face unfair repercussions just because they are doing their job and trying to save a life."

The rules are now "consistent" for all emergency responders, she noted. 

With files from Metro Morning