Police must notify SIU of incidents involving anti-overdose drug naloxone

Ontario’s chiefs of police must “immediately” notify their forces’ civilian oversight body if an officer administers the anti-overdose drug naloxone in the line of duty, the head of that body said Thursday.

Ontario's police watchdog has clarified position on police interactions with the public involving naloxone

SIU Director Tony Loparco has maintained his position that police must report incidents involving a civilian's serious injury or death when naloxone is administered or attempted. (Sam Colbert/CBC)

Ontario's chiefs of police must "immediately" notify their forces' civilian oversight body if an officer administers the anti-overdose drug naloxone in the line of duty, the head of that body said Thursday.

Tony Loparco, head of the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), issued the notice in a letter to Bryan Larkin, chief of the Waterloo Regional Police Service and president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP).

In his letter, Loparco said he wanted "to be very clear" about the agency's jurisdiction regarding incidents in which police administer naloxone, and the obligations of chiefs to notify the SIU of such incidents.

Because the SIU investigates interactions involving police in which a civilian is seriously injured or dies, "incidents involving the administration, attempted administration or non-administration of naloxone by police officers in the course of interactions with persons who sustain serious injury or death could reasonably be captured by the SIU's investigative jurisdiction," Loparco wrote.

Therefore, chiefs of police must "immediately notify the SIU of these incidents."

Police chief 'concerned' by SIU policy

The letter, dated Thursday, responds to Larkin's own letter dated Jan. 11, in which he said he was "concerned" about the SIU's position that police must advise the agency whenever a death occurs during police interaction, particularly if naloxone was administered or attempted.

"With respect, that is not how the legislation reads nor is it logical or practical," Larkin wrote last month.

Police often attend calls for medical issues, accidents or drug overdoses where a patient is in critical condition or dies while interacting with police. During those incidents, Larkin argued, patients receive emergency first aid, CPR or are treated with a defibrillator. The SIU legislation was not drafted to cover such cases, Larkin went on.

"We see no difference when a police officer attempts to revive a person who has died or is dying from a drug overdose, whether that is by naloxone or another permitted (and expected) emergency-medical based response."

Larkin asked for clarification of the SIU's policy, noting that British Columbia's Independent Investigations Office (IIO) has decided that overdose deaths where naloxone is either administered or attempted by a police officer and no other part of their behaviour caused a medical crisis or death "are not SIU matters."

Larkin also expressed concern that officers may not act as quickly to save lives if they are worried about a potential SIU probe.

Public 'fully' expects SIU to probe incidents

Loparco said incidents where police have administered CPR or emergency first aid are "regularly" passed on to the SIU. "I see no reason to carve out an exception in naloxone cases," Loparco said, adding that members of the community would "fully expect" these cases to be referred to the SIU, even if, ultimately, an investigation is not opened.

Loparco also took exception to the notion that officers might be discouraged from attempting to save lives with naloxone knowing the SIU might be called.

"The SIU rejects the contention that the vast majority of police officers might do anything less than act swiftly in the discharge of their foremost duty, namely, the preservation of life, for fear that their conduct will be subject to a fair and independent investigation.

"Conversely, a fair and independent investigation is precisely the answer for the small minority of officers who may have fallen short in their duty, a position with which the OACP presumably agrees."

The debate comes amid an ongoing opioid crisis that has police forces across the country opting to or considering equipping officers with naloxone. The Toronto Police Service is still considering whether to send officers out on their shifts with the drug.

OACP considering response

Loparco ended his letter with a warning to police leadership province-wide against making decisions that would restrict the SIU's work.

"Doing so risks not merely placing their membership in contravention of the law, but undermines the confidence that the public should have in its policing services."

Asked for a response to Loparco, the OACP said Thursday it is reviewing the letter and will respond as appropriate.

"I'm afraid that won't be today as we respect the Director's views and would wish to have the letter carefully considered by our subject matter experts," Joe L. Couto, the OACP's director of government relations and communications, told CBC Toronto in an email.