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Vancouver Island police confirm province cutting funds for officer naloxone kits

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Three Vancouver Island police departments say the province will no longer pay for their naloxone supplies — a life-saving medication officers use frequently, in the midst of the overdose crisis.

The chief of the Oak Bay Police Department (OBPD) said B.C.’s Public Safety Ministry notified police agencies of the funding cut in April of last year.

"Inventories are now expiring, so police departments are now contemplating how to best manage this," OBPD Chief Ray Bernoties wrote in an email to CTV News.

"OBPD views this as a serious issue, as our members do encounter overdoses," he said. "There are other [police departments] who will likely experience an even greater impact."

The Victoria Police Department (VicPD) also confirmed the province will no longer cover the costs of naloxone, nor the cost of training police on how to use it.

"Given the number of opioid overdoses our officers see, our provincially-supplied naloxone stores were quickly depleted," said VicPD spokesperson Bowen Osoko.

"We are part of our community and we all work together to help save lives in the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic," he said.

VicPD is now using its own budget to cover the cost of the medication.

The Saanich Police Department said its naloxone kits expire at the end of the year, so it will also replenish its own supply.

Many police services use the nasal spray form of naloxone. The kits can cost about $120 each, with two doses inside, according to the police department.

"Which is… obviously a significant cost," Saanich Police Const. Markus Anastasiades told CTV News.

"However, we know that they’re vital for saving lives and we want our officers to have it at their disposal," he said.

PROVINCE RESPONDS

On Wednesday afternoon, B.C.'s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it would "ensure officers continue to have access to naloxone kits."

The ministry did not explain how it plans to do that Wednesday.

"The Ministry’s Policing and Security Branch supported front-line police officers with funding for naloxone kits for four years," reads a statement from the ministry.

"Naloxone is also supplied to harm reduction sites, pharmacies, corrections, etc. for distribution to people who are likely to experience or witness and respond to an overdose," adds the statement. "All paramedics responding to an overdose have access to a supply of Naloxone."

View Royal Fire Rescue Chief Paul Hurst said fire departments’ funding for naloxone remains unchanged.

In the first half of this year, at least 1,011 people died of a suspected drug overdose, according to the provincial coroners service. B.C.’s Health Ministry declared overdose deaths a public health emergency in 2016.

"Police have administered naloxone hundreds of times and saved countless lives," Bernoties said.

Kathleen Radu, an advocate with Moms Stop the Harm, said it would be irresponsible not to supply police officers with naloxone kits.

"It makes no sense to me that we are now putting a price on the lives of these people," said Radu, whose son, Morgan, died of an overdose last year.

Police are often first to respond to overdoses, she said, regularly preventing drug toxicity deaths.

"Can you imagine what those numbers will be if we don’t have… our police officers having access to those naloxone kits?" Radu said. "They’re going to skyrocket." 

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