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RCMP pass out fentanyl antidote
Force says naloxone distrubuted to on-duty officers for their safety and others

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Friday, September 30, 2016

The Mounties have begun distributing a drug to on-duty officers that temporarily reverses the effects of a fentanyl overdose as the death toll from the opioid continues to climb nationally.

NNSL photo/graphic

Firefighter Chris Bittrolff fills a syringe in January during a training session at the city's fire hall for how to administer naloxone, which temporarily reverses the effects of a fentanyl overdose. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

RCMP announced Sept. 13 officers across the country would have access to naloxone, which can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose.

"Naloxone will be carried by on-duty operational members for use on members and employees who are at risk of accidental exposure and who may be required to provide first aid treatment for citizens in an emergency situation if an opioid overdose is suspected," Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer, an RCMP spokesperson in Ottawa, stated in an e-mail, adding the roll-out of naloxone hydrochloride has already begun in the territory (no one from RCMP in the territory responded to a request for information).

Officer training and information has been developed by the force so officers know the risks and symptoms of fentanyl contact as well as how to administer naloxone.

Fentanyl, a painkiller drug about 100 times more potent than morphine, has been the cause of a spiking number of overdose deaths in British Columbia, Alberta and now some eastern parts of the country. Only a small dose - a couple grains of sand in size - can be enough to trigger an overdose.

Mike Hoffman, a deputy fire chief, attended an RCMP and Health Canada meeting in January that warned of the dangers emergency responders face when entering locations that may contain the powder form of fentanyl. Hoffman said stirring up the dust and getting it in their eyes may be enough to cause an overdose.

"It is so dangerous," Hoffman said at the time.

Fentanyl has been linked to five deaths between 2009 and 2015, according to the NWT chief coroner.

Only one of those had been prescribed fentanyl, which is normally used to treat intense pain.

Illicit fentanyl sold in Yellowknife typically has been in the form of pills that appear to be green and marked with '80' to look like prescription painkiller OxyContin.

City-run ambulances only added naloxone to their stocks this winter after a series of overdose calls in the fall of 2015.

The RCMP have distributed a nasal spray form of naloxone, which is simpler to use than the injection form. Canada approved the importation of the nasal spray type in July.

The city doesn't plan to switch to the nasal spray form, director of Public Safety Dennis Marchiori stated in an e-mail Wednesday. He didn't answer a question about whether naloxone has been used since being added to ambulances this year.

The federal government this year also made a change to allow provinces and territories to opt to make naloxone available without a prescription so that anyone could pick up the drug at a pharmacy. As of July, the GNWT had not made the change to allow that here.

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