The union representing Peel Region paramedics says an investigation by Ontario’s police watchdog into the circumstances of a death of a man who officers tried to save with the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone will have “a chilling effect” that could harm those who are vulnerable.
“The province’s police officers were equipped with the life-saving narcotic antidote as part of the provincial opiate strategy. This is an important life-saving initiative,” a statement issued by the Peel Paramedic Union, OPSEU Local 277, on Tuesday read, noting naloxone access has been expanded to drug users and firefighters.
“By not carving out an exception for narcotic-induced medical complications in patients who get NARCAN (naloxone nasal spray) for police, they have left police officers who try to help victims of narcotic overdoses subject to investigation. The result is chaotic.”
The union said if police didn’t administer naloxone but attempted CPR, an investigation wouldn’t occur.
“If, however, a police officer approached and treated the same patient with CPR and naloxone, the SIU would investigate,” the statement said.
The statement comes after the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) said on Monday it’s probing the death of a 36-year-old man who died in Brampton.
The SIU said Peel Regional Police officers were called for “medical assistance” to a home in the McLaughlin Road and Queen Street West area at around 12:30 a.m. After arriving, the agency said officers began CPR and gave naloxone to the man. However, he died at the scene.
The SIU is an independent enforcement agency that investigates incidents involving police that have resulted in death, serious injury or alleged sexual assault.
Global News attempted to get more information about the call from the SIU, but a spokesperson was unavailable Tuesday evening.
The Ontario Ministry of Health announced in December that naloxone kits would be offered to all 61 police services across the province and all 447 municipal fire departments.
“We know that having naloxone in the hands of first responders who may be working with at-risk populations is a valuable tool that saves lives,” provincial Community Safety Minister Marie-France Lalonde said at the time.
In a January letter addressed to the SIU, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police president Bryan Larkin wrote that police forces should not have to inform the SIU of deaths or serious injuries if officers’ only interaction with the person was to administer the opioid-blocking drug.
Meanwhile, in their statement, OPSEU Local 277 called on the government to put in place new protections for police officers who “do their duty to protect and serve the people of Ontario.”
— With files from The Canadian Press