REGINA — A mother whose son died of a fentanyl overdose wants the Regina Police Service to equip all front-line officers with the life-saving antidote naloxone.
Jenny Churchill’s 30-year-old son, Jordan, was pronounced dead in hospital on Jan. 27, 2018.
She says her son, who grew up playing hockey and loved the movie “The Notebook,” struggled with addictions and sought treatment before his death.
Churchill, now an advocate who’s met with government officials and belongs to the group Moms Stop The Harm, says she began questioning how police responded to her son’s overdose.
She learned that not all officers carry naloxone, which can reverse or block the effects of an overdose.
“Kits save lives,” Churchill said in a recent interview. “What if they stumbled across an overdose?
“Anybody who carries a kit who comes across an opioid overdose has the potential to save a life.”
A Regina police spokeswoman said giving naloxone to every front-line officer is being considered, but right now only patrol sergeants and those working in the drugs and gang unit carry it.
So far in 2019, police administered naloxone to five people, all of whom survived, Elizabeth Popowich said in an email.
Patrol supervisors are never far from serious calls and firefighters and paramedics also carry naloxone, she wrote.
“We work to find a balance between assessed risk and available resources.”
The Canadian Press contacted police across Canada and although each agency has a slightly different protocol, most reported naloxone or the nasal spray Narcan is available to front-line members.
In Saskatchewan, Mounties in the field as well as Saskatoon patrol officers and investigators are equipped with naloxone.
It’s also carried by street officers with the Vancouver Police Department, Calgary Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police and with municipal police services in Halifax, Winnipeg, Victoria and London, Ont.
London police say from June to December 2018, officers administered naloxone to 59 people and to 78 people from January to May of this year. Ten of those people died.
“We are often the first on scene when there is an overdose call and so it just made sense that our officers carried naloxone,” said police spokeswoman Roxanne Beaubien.
In Edmonton, each of six police stations has 20 naloxone kits that members can sign out each shift.
A spokesman for Montreal’s police service said its officers don’t use naloxone because the agency believes that job belongs to other first responders.
Churchill is asking the Regina Board of Police Commissioners to equip all officers with naloxone. She’s hopeful change is coming because of the increase in fentanyl-related deaths reported in Saskatchewan.
“People can’t recover if they’re dead,” she said.
She’s also calling for changes to how officers respond to medical calls.
When a 911 call came in about her son being found unresponsive in a bathroom, fire and emergency services responded, but not police, she said. First responders found needles and a suspected illicit substance nearby.
Churchill complained to the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission and last December received a letter that said no wrongdoing had been found.
It said Regina police policy doesn’t require officers to attend non-suspicious medical emergencies or investigate suspected overdoses.
Popowich said the city’s officers don’t necessarily go to overdose calls unless a person is dead or dying, but can attend anytime.
A commission investigator recommended in the letter that the Regina service review its practices and suggested officers go to a suspected overdose scene if someone is declared dead elsewhere, such as in hospital.
Churchill said she found the response stigmatizing because the letter refers to her son’s addiction as a “burden.” She doesn’t believe the same language would have been used had he been suffering from cancer.
“Jordan was not a burden to our family. Jordan suffered a disease.”