Over the course of two weeks in December, staff at Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria oversaw memorial services for seven people who died from fentanyl overdoses.
That prompted the BC Funeral Association to issue a memo to members suggesting staff arm themselves with naloxone kits. It isn’t mandatory but voluntary.
“We came off a horrible season,” said Lorraine Fracy, the manager of the memorial park and cremation centre.
In September, police in B.C. started carrying the nasal version of the fentanyl antidote after some officers reported feeling the effects of the drug while interacting with users.
“It takes a second for you to be exposed and another second to die,” RCMP Cnst. Dawn Adams said.
Dr. Michael Krausz, an addiction researcher at the University of British Columbia, says the risks to funeral workers are overblown. By the time the cadaver goes from pathology to the mortician, he says, the potency of the drug has likely diminished.
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“The risk for the average person is far less than HIV or hepatitis C,” Krausz said.
Others, like Hugh Lampkin of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), says having the kits at funeral homes is a fear tactic.
“I’ve been to many, many funerals,” Lampkin said. “I don’t see drugs at funeral homes.”
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Staff at the funeral homes do wear protective gear but they feel it’s a precaution. They also feel the kits are necessary for visitors who may be chronic drug users.
The BC Funeral Association emphasizes it is a voluntary precaution.
Fracy says they’re focused on ensuring the safety of their clients.
“Our job is to take care of the dead and the living,” Fracy says.
Global News contacted WorkSafe BC to determine if more businesses should be equipped with naloxone kits.
In an email, spokesperson Scott McCloy wrote that, in situations where workers are exposed to risk, it’s important “to have an exposure control plan in place that includes safe work procedures as well as any equipment/materials necessary to prevent a worker or workers from being exposed.”