Windsor·Exclusive

Windsor police first to respond to at least 14 overdose calls without life-saving drug that could prevent them

On at least 14 occasions, Windsor police officers arrived first to the scene of a drug overdose without naloxone in-hand because they aren't permitted to carry the life-saving drug.

Arming certain units with naloxone being considered by Windsor police, union says

Paramedics and first responders work to save a person suspected of having a drug overdose. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On at least 14 occasions, Windsor police officers arrived first to the scene of a drug overdose without naloxone in-hand because they aren't permitted to carry the life-saving drug, according to police reports obtained by CBC.

CBC News has also learned Windsor police is now considering equipping some units with naloxone, the Windsor Police Association said. But president Shawn McCurdy added he's still pushing for all front-line officers to have the drug. Some currently do, even though it's not sanctioned, he said.

Shawn McCurdy is president of the Windsor Police Association. (Jason Viau/CBC)

"Without getting into specifics, I know that there was an incident where it was utilized so obviously one of the officers must have had it on them, is from my understanding. I can't say whether or not it's something our officers are regularly carrying," said McCurdy, who said it happened "a few months ago."

The Windsor Police Service is one of the few police departments in Ontario that doesn't equip its officers with naloxone, even as the number of opioid-related overdoses has risen over the years. Chief Pam Mizuno has previously said the data doesn't support the need to issue naloxone to officers.

Windsor police declined a request for an interview on this matter.

CBC News analyzed all Windsor police reports where officers responded and naloxone was administered between November 2018 and December 2019. The 168 "initial officers reports" provide a 13-month snapshot and were obtained through a Freedom of Information Request that took several months to compile.

This police report illustrates one case where police arrived before paramedics when responding to an overdose call. (CBC)

Police arrive to overdose call 9 minutes before EMS

Windsor police were first to respond in at least 14 cases, highlighting that officers had to sometimes wait for paramedics before naloxone could be administered. During one call in March 2019, the police report indicated officers arrived to a drug overdose nine minutes before Essex-Windsor EMS.

In another instance, two officers were patrolling the riverfront in September 2019 when they noticed a woman in "medical distress." They requested paramedics, and 39 minutes after they found her naloxone was administered, according to the police report. She then became conscious and responsive.

"I think they definitely should carry it. And I don't understand why they don't. It's escalating, the drug problems in Windsor and they could save a lot more lives," said Gina Folkersen.

Folkersen lost her 30-year-old son Jesse to a drug overdose last month. She believes he died hours before his grandmother found him, who called 911. 

I think, respectfully, common sense would tell you the benefits of carrying and what it does to save lives or protect first responders as well.- Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario

In this instance, it wouldn't have made a difference if police had naloxone. But Folkersen said police could save someone else's life if they were armed with the drug, which the province provides for free.

Watch as Gina Folkersen recounts the emotional final goodbye with her son:

Mom remembers final moments after her son died of a drug overdose

Windsor

6 months ago
1:09
Gina Folkersen's son Jesse died of a fentanyl overdose last month. Although he was dead hours before first responders arrived, she said Windsor police should carry naloxone to possibly save someone else's life. 1:09

Two weeks before Jesse's death, Folkersen said he went to get help, but left the hospital waiting room before that happened. The system to help people with a drug addiction, she said, is broken.

"There were times that we called for days, even weeks, trying to get him into detox before they would finally have a bed available," she said. 

Gina Folkersen's son Jesse died of a drug overdose in September at the age of 30. (Gina Folkersen)

Jesse had been to rehab before. But nothing quite broke his habit with meth, which eventually turned into a fentanyl addiction. And one time after detox, she said there wasn't a bed immediately available for her son.

"So these people are detoxing. They're off the drugs, but they get out and they're on their own. If they don't go immediately into a rehab program, they're in limbo," she said.

Opioid-related hospital visits up in 2020

In May, June and July, more people arrived at the local emergency department due to an overdose compared to 2018 and 2019, and significantly higher than the average between 2012 and 2017, according to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

During most months of 2020, opioid-related emergency department visits were higher than previous years. (WECHU)

The worst month for overdoses this year was July — 39 people were taken to Windsor Regional Hospital. That's compared to 16 in 2018 and 15 last year.

The Police Association of Ontario is also frustrated that Windsor still doesn't equip its officers with naloxone, three years after many police forces began doing so.

"I think, respectfully, common sense would tell you the benefits of carrying and what it does to save lives or protect first responders as well," president Bruce Chapman tells CBC News.

LaSalle police say naloxone is 'invaluable'

In LaSalle, all officers have been equipped with the drug since 2017 and they've only had to administer it once.

John Leontowicz is the chief of the LaSalle Police Service. (LaSalle police)

"The fact that even one life was saved due to it's use is sufficient evidence, in our view, that carrying Naloxone is an invaluable and potentially life saving substance which will continue to be carried by every officer of the LaSalle Police Service for the foreseeable future," said chief John Leontowicz in an emailed statement.

In comparison to police in London — which is roughly the same population size as Windsor-Essex — officers there used naloxone 110 times during a six month period between April and September.

Last month, the OPP released a report highlighting officers saved 108 lives between 2017 and 2019 by administering naloxone.

"The OPP's first priority is to save lives and to promote public safety," the report reads.

Naloxone comes in two forms: as an injection and as a nasal spray. It can be administered repeatedly without causing harm. (Christine Rankin/CBC News)

In Windsor, none of the reports obtained by CBC News indicated an officer used naloxone. Since the documents were heavily redacted, in 54 cases it wasn't clear who arrived first as the reports didn't specify or the names of people weren't visible.

In the 14 instances when police were first to arrive, civilians administered naloxone in three cases before officers arrived. During two calls, EMS used the drug after police arrived. The remaining police reports didn't indicated who used the naloxone.

Windsor firefighters also don't carry naloxone

In most of the reports, EMS responded first or both paramedics and firefighters were on scene when police arrived. During five instances, Windsor fire was on scene first for an overdose call or arrived at the same time as police. And local firefighters are also not equipped with naloxone.

Roughly 33 per cent of Ontario fire services are participating in the Ontario Naloxone Program, and equipping firefighters with the drug.

CBC News requested an interview with Windsor fire chief Stephen Laforet, but did not receive a response.

Windsor firefighters are not equipped with naloxone, while 33% of fire services across Ontario have the drug. (Derek Spalding/CBC)

Naloxone is free for all police and fire services as well as St. John Ambulance branches and dispensed by the province under the Ontario Naloxone Program. As of March 31, the government said 84 per cent of police services in Ontario access the program, which includes First Nations constables.

Windsor police making 'headway' in getting naloxone

But it appears the Windsor Police Service is moving toward approving naloxone for some officers, which is a step in the right direction, critics say.

"Nothing's finalized," said Shawn McCurdy, president of the Windsor Police Association. "But there has been a little bit of movement from the previous [stance] where we weren't going to have it at all. So we have made some headway in that direction."

"And our position is still that front line officers have it available and available within the some of our facilities as well. "

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now