Equipping Montreal police officers with naloxone would save lives, group says

Outreach groups in Montreal say it's time the city's police force join their counterparts elsewhere in the country and equip their officers with naloxone, used to treat opioid overdoses.

Louis Letellier de St-Just, president of community organization Cactus Montreal, says a cop with naloxone could be the difference between life and death for some drug users.

"If policemen are getting to a place where there's an overdose, they can act immediately and save a life," said de St-Just, who is also a lawyer specializing in public health.   

Montreal city Coun. Marvin Rotrand says he wrote a letter to police Chief Philippe Pichet, following two deaths last week that are suspected to be caused by drug overdoses, urging the force have its officers carry naloxone kits. 

Pichet wrote back Tuesday, saying the move to do so was in the works and that he and Mayor Denis Coderre are planning to meet about the issue, the councillor said.

Montreal city Coun. Marvin Rotrand says it's time that police officers carry naloxone kits. (CBC)

Rotrand said that was good news, but pointed out that when he raised the issue of the opioid epidemic at city hall at the beginning of the year, his call for an action plan fell on deaf ears. 

"Nobody knew what was going on and [said], 'It's an exaggeration,'" he said. 

Making naxolone more readily available

De St-Just added first responders should receive special training on how to use naloxone and treat overdoses.

He says the distribution of naloxone kits shouldn't stop at police officers or even first responders. Ideally, safe injection sites such as Cactus Montreal would be able to hand them out to opioid users as well, he said. 


Louis Letellier de St-Just says the health ministry should increase the availability of naloxone kits to prevent overdose deaths. (CBC)

"It's extremely important to extend the accessibility to naloxone," de St-Just said. "If we want to face what we call the crisis, we need to put all the chances on our side."

He believes the Health Ministry should release its action plan on the matter of opioid and drug use sooner than its planned publication in the fall.

Both de St-Just and Rotrand agree making naloxone more available is only one step in preventing a rash of overdoses similar to what other Canadian cities, such as Vancouver and, more recently, Toronto, have experienced.

Other Canadian police forces carry the antidote

A spate of overdoses in Toronto prompted Mayor John Tory to ask that city's police force to reconsider its position not to carry naloxone at the beginning of the month.

Vancouver announced last week the number of overdose deaths in 2017, at 232, had already surpassed last year's total.

An advertisment warning of the dangers of fentanyl use is seen on a sidewalk in downtown Vancouver in April. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Rotrand suggested police in Montreal could follow Ottawa's approach, which has been to provide half of its officers with naloxone kits. 

Harm reduction workers in Ontario have been calling the epidemic a public health crisis and are urging officials to do the same. 

"One of the things we can anticipate is this opioids epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better," Rotrand said. 

90 drug overdoses in Montreal this year

Police have carried out a number of drug busts in Quebec in the past year, where they have found and seized large amounts of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller linked to an overdose epidemic in a number of Canadian provinces and in the United States.

Montreal police say as of last week, there'd been more than 90 drug overdoses this year, 10 of which were linked to fentanyl. Two of the overdoses have been fatal. 

Two weeks ago, there were seven overdoses in the neighbourhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve police said they believe were due to fentanyl-laced drugs.

"When I raised this issue again last week at city hall, I think I found a better audience," Rotrand said, commending Coderre's support for safe injection sites in the city.



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