The Vancouver Police Department has announced officers will soon be able to carry a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of a potentially deadly fentanyl overdose.

Const. Brian Montague said police in the city have increasingly been coming into contact with the dangerously powerful opioid, raising concerns they could suffer an accidental overdose.

“We obviously want to protect our officers,” Montague told reporters Friday.

“When we go to execute a drug search for warrant, for example, we don’t know what they’re making. It may appear to be cocaine or heroin or methamphetamine, but we don’t know if there’s fentanyl being cut into that.”

To ease those fears, the department will be providing officers with a nasal spray form of naloxone, a life-saving antidote used to treat various opioid overdoses. The force is spending $75,000 on the kits, which cost $145 each. 

The spray has only recently become available in Canada thanks to an order by federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, though an injectable dose of naloxone has been available in the country for years.

Montague said there has yet to be an incident where police suffered an accidental overdose or overdose symptoms in Vancouver, but the department has heard of three cases from elsewhere in B.C. where officers were exposed to drugs and required medical attention.

In two of those cases, the officers needed to be treated with naloxone, he added.

The VPD’s announcement came amid the province’s ongoing drug overdose crisis, which claimed 433 lives in the first seven months of this year. The majority of those were linked to drugs laced with fentanyl.

Because the department has a standing policy of not attending overdose cases, to ensure that people in need of medical help don’t hesitate to call 911 for fear of drawing police attention, the decision to let officers carry naloxone is primarily to protect police, Montague said.

“Because of our non-attendance in overdoses, the real concern for the police when it comes to first responders is the overdose of our own members and the overdose of our civilian staff,” he said.

The nasal naloxone doses last for two years, but because they’re being shipped in from the U.S., Montague said the doses police are obtaining are already six months old.

For information on using naloxone to reverse the symptoms of an overdose, including drowsiness, slowed breathing and loss of consciousness, visit B.C.’s Toward the Heart website

To learn more about the dangers of fentanyl, visit the VPD’s Know Your Source website