By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Opioid overdoses are continuing to be a growing problem in Durham Region, and now Oshawa Fire Services have taken the initiative to ensure it can take steps should firefighters come across the worst.
Earlier this month, Oshawa’s fire trucks became equipped with naloxone, the potentially life-saving drug that can temporarily halt an opioid overdose, creating enough time to get the person to hospital for treatment.
“We thought it would be prudent and proactive to put them on our trucks because occasionally, we do go to those types of calls where we may be first on scene,” says Todd Wood, a deputy chief with Oshawa Fire Services.
Naloxone, which also goes by the shelf-name Narcan, acts by blocking receptors in the brain that respond to opioids, effectively reducing the effects of an overdose for up to 45 minutes.
Each truck will carry a dual blister-pack of Narcan nasal spray, and all fire crews have received training in their use, as well as how to identify the potential signs of an opioid overdose.
“They are 100 per cent crucial,” Wood says. “I think everybody should carry them.”
And the provincial government is trying to make it easier for everyone to access the drug. In June 2016, the province announced the initiation of its Naloxone pharmacy program, making the potentially life-saving drug available without a prescription.
The fire service is also not the only first response unit carrying the drug, with Durham EMS having carried it for years, as well as some divisions of the Durham Regional Police now being equipped as well.
“We have kits that have been allocated to specialized units, such as the Drug Enforcement Unit and Tactical Services, and they have received training on how to use it,” states Jodi MacLean, a spokesperson with DRPS. “It is not widely available to every front-line officer, but it is available if it is needed.”
For Wood, he says the fire services begun investigating the potential of employing Narcan when reports began surfacing of first responders coming into contact with dangerous opioids in the field and accidentally overdosing.
Earlier this month in Ohio, an officer accidentally overdosed after searching a vehicle suspected to be involved in a drug deal. While using proper procedure with a mask and latex gloves during the search, reports indicate when the officer returned to the station, he noticed white powder on his uniform and after inadvertently brushing it off, collapsed an hour later. He was given several doses of Narcan and transported to hospital where he is said to be recovering. It is suspected the substance was either fentanyl or carafentanil.
The reports also follow what could be the first appearance of carafentanil in Durham Region. On May 15, the DRPS released a warning to the public that the deadly drug, said to be 100 times more potent than fentanyl (which itself is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine) was suspected to be involved in a recent overdose incident.
For that reason, Wood says they first thought about keeping Narcan on trucks strictly for the firefighters themselves.
“Initially we thought we would keep it on the trucks just for our firefighters to prevent anything if they did come in contact with it,” he says. “Then we decided that, you know, for the citizens of Oshawa, it’s probably best if we administer it to them in the event that we’re first on scene.”
The opioid crisis was brought back into strict focus this month when the province launched a new online tracker to monitor incidents across Ontario. It was revealed that in the first half of 2016, more than 400 Ontarians died from suspected opioid overdoses, up from 371 the year before.