Overdose antidote being debated in Toronto

Jun 25, 2014

There are growing calls for police officers in Toronto to carry an antidote that would counteract the effects of an overdose.  Overdoses from some opiates, which include powerful painkillers, have become of the leading causes of accidental deaths in Ontario.

The calls follow a recent announcement in New York, where more than half of police officers, nearly 20,000, will soon carry naloxone, also known as Narcan.

It's a drug that can temporarily reverse an overdose for up to 45 minutes, usually enough time to get a drug user to the hospital. Police and Fire departments in Buffalo recently began carrying it. New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says the program will literally save lives.

Credit File photo

In Ontario, the provincial government has faced criticism for being too slow to introduce a program to distribute naloxone. and for providing it only for needle exchange programs. Critics say it just doesn't reach enough of the people who need it.

Police in Toronto can only administer an epi pen for people who undergo a severe allergic reaction.  

The chief coroner of Ontario says in 2012 there were 578 opioid overdose deaths in the province, compared to 344 just four years earlier. And after Oxycontin was taken off the market in Canada in 2012, the number of addicts jumped.

Toronto's associate medical officer of health says she would support training for Toronto police officers on how to use the antidote. There also appears to be a growing number of doctors advocating for its use.

One problem, though, is that most pharmacies in Ontario don't stock naloxone and it is not covered by provincial health care.