Montreal police officers will finally begin carrying the life-saving medication naloxone after a long campaign by advocates for those with addiction issues.
The drug, which is also known as Narcan commercially, can counter the effects of an opioid overdose, especially decreased breathing.
Global News first reported earlier this year that unlike the provincial police force and municipal police in Laval and Quebec City, Montreal police officers were not equipped with naloxone kits. The news came as a surprise to many on city council, and Mayor Valérie Plante soon after announced that police would be equipped with them later in the year.
In a statement, the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) announced that between Oct. 9 and Nov. 9, more than 3,300 officers were trained to administer naloxone. Starting Tuesday, the service added, 30 local police stations received stocks of the medication, as did 26 operational support units.
“The SPVM will join the efforts of other police forces in Quebec, as well as numerous partners in health social services, communities and public safety networks,” the statement reads.
Cactus Montreal executive director Jean-François Mary says the change is welcome — but long overdue.
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“Police in Quebec have been already carrying naloxone for a while, and we didn’t understand why the police in Montreal would refuse to do so,” he told Global News. “And due to the context in Montreal, they have been forced to move.”
The context that Mary refers to is a rather alarming increase in overdoses. Between June and October of this year, paramedics administered naloxone in 157 cases in the Greater Montreal area. That’s up more than double from the 70 times they used naloxone in the same period of 2019.
Yet Mary says it’s likely the true number of overdoses is quite a bit higher than that.
“Right now in Montreal, (police) are inquiring at every site where an overdose occurs,” he said. “And this is very detrimental because people don’t want to face police when they’re using drugs, and so they call 911 less and less, in cases of overdoses, due to the inquiries made by police.”
Mary says that the explosion in overdose deaths in Montreal can only partially be explained by the pandemic. He says that the opioid supply in Montreal has also grown significantly more dangerous recently, too.
“We’ve seen more and more fentanyl in the ‘pseudo-heroin,'” he said. “Right, now there is almost no heroin in Montreal. … The opioids that circulate are mainly fentanyl, or fentanyl analogues, or similar substances, like fully-synthetic opioids.”
The sentiment was echoed by Dr. Carole Morrissette of Montreal regional public health. “We are now in a situation where we observe fentanyl more available in Montreal,” she told Global News.
According to both Mary and Morissette, Quebec was “protected” from the surge in fentanyl within North America’s drug supply until several years ago. The fentanyl crisis first became a serious issue in British Columbia nearly a decade ago, before quickly spreading across Canada and into the United States. Most synthetic drugs enter circulation in North America via the Port of Vancouver.
Until June, “Montreal was a city very different from Toronto, or even Ottawa, or, as you know, B.C.,” Morrissette said.
The first police stations in Montreal to be equipped with naloxone will be those that have experienced overdoses on their territory recently.
According to data obtained by Global News, Quebec paramedics engaged in at least one intervention that involved the use of the medication on the territories of 18 police stations on the island in June or July of this year.