'People are dying;' advocate, police rank and file welcome news officers will carry naloxone

Windsor's chief of police has made the decision to provide naloxone to all officers, Mayor Drew Dilkens said.

Currently only three specialized units carry the life-saving kits

Windsor police cruisers are shown outside headquarters on Jan. 5, 2021. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Mayor Drew Dilkens says Windsor's chief of police has made the decision to provide naloxone to all officers.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Windsor Morning Friday, Dilkens said the decision was connected to the opening of the aquatic centre as a shelter for COVID-19-positive people who are experiencing homelessness.

The emergency shelter has 24-hour policing which is being carried out by officers from various units, not just the divisions that were previously equipped with the overdose-reversing drug.

"So I know she's going to make the decision to arm all of the officers at Windsor Police Service with Naloxone, and we've always said this will be a data-driven decision and that these changes will happen as the facts change, and guess what — the facts are changing."

Dilkens, who is chair of the Windsor's police services board, said chief Pam Mizuno is doing "the right thing."

CBC News reached out to Windsor police for an interview, but Mizuno was did not provide comment. There is no information available from police about the cost or timing of the naloxone rollout.

In October, CBC News looked at Windsor police reports that showed officers were first to respond to an opioid overdose in at least 14 cases over a 13 month span. This meant that officers had to sometimes wait for paramedics before naloxone could be administered. 

On one occasion, officers waited 39 minutes for paramedics to arrive at a scene and administer naloxone to a woman, who then became conscious and responsive.

'Unfortunate that it took this long'

In recent months, calls for emergency responders to carry naloxone have mounted amid the opioid overdose crisis.

Among those advocating for officers to carry the drug included president of the Windsor Police Association Shawn McCurdy. He told CBC News Friday that he's pleased with the decision. 

"It's unfortunate that it took this long, but the right decision has been made now," he said. "It's a peace of mind now that we have this tool with us that hopefully we don't ever have to use but if we do, it's there." 

The Windsor Police Service is one of the last major units in the province to get approval to carry naloxone, he said. 

Currently, Windsor police have officers with three units — detention, city centre patrol and problem-oriented policing — that had access to the drug.

City council unanimously voted earlier this year to direct the fire service to start carrying naloxone nasal spray kits.

Lisa Valente, a member of Families Stop the Harm, says police having naloxone is the difference between life and death for many who overdose on opioids. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

There were 29 emergency room visits related to opioid overdoses in Windsor-Essex last month alone, according to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

In 2019, 47 opioid overdose deaths in Windsor-Essex were reported by the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario.

A member of a local harm reduction group, Families Stop the Harm, Lisa Valente said she was "happy" to hear the news, but notes that this was a long time coming. 

"I think it should have been approved a long time ago. We lost a lot of lives this year, we lost a lot of lives just in the past few weeks," she said. 

"The police having naloxone kits is the difference between living and dying ... When you call 911 police, ambulance, fire chances are police may be the first person there and if police have the kit and they have the opportunity to save somebody's life, that's huge... a lot of people are dying."