By RCMP Corporal Rob Welsman
Recently I was asked to provide some information on the role of police at drug overdose incidents. This is an important topic, and one that should be discussed with the community-at-large.
By all accounts, the drug overdose crisis in British Columbia is a growing problem. By the end of October this year, the number of deaths in British Columbia from drug overdose (1,782) was already higher than the entire number of drug overdose deaths in 2020 (1,765). At a loss of approximately six people per day, this is a staggering number. Considered another way, that would be like losing the entire population of Barriere every year due to drug overdose.
When an overdose happens due to illicit drugs, sometimes the patient or bystanders on scene may worry that police will attend if an ambulance is called. It is not uncommon for police to attend with an ambulance in overdose situations. Due to the risk assessment conducted by the ambulance dispatcher, some situations may require police attendance to ensure the safety of the responding paramedics or others at scene. When police are summoned, they may even arrive first on scene, depending on the starting locations of the ambulance and the attending police. In these situations, police are trained to provide first aid assistance as the first priority. All RCMP officers are issued with naloxone kits and AED’s that they are trained to use, in order to provide assistance to those who show signs of opioid overdose.
To help reduce the legal liability concerns of those at the scene of an overdose who may have in their possession personal amounts of illicit drugs, the government of Canada passed the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act (GSDO Act) in 2017. The Act states that i) individuals who are in simple possession of controlled drugs, or ii) are breaching their court-imposed “no drugs” conditions related to simple possession of controlled substances cannot be charged for these offenses when they occur at an overdose event. The Act does not provide blanket legal immunity for other types of offences, and the police may still seize any drugs they observe in plain view.
The spirit of the GSDO Act is to help ensure that there is no delay in calling for medical or police assistance at an overdose incident. In these medical emergencies, every minute counts – brain cells begin to die within four minutes or less from lack of breathing, and brain injury or death is the result. Immediately calling 911, providing effective CPR, and administering naloxone can help prevent brain injury or death prior to the arrival of first responders. If you, or someone you care about uses illicit drugs, it is important to have immediate access to a naloxone kit and to know how to use it. Speak to your health provider, band health administration office, or call 811 at any time to learn how to get a kit that you can keep in your home in case of an overdose.
The risk of drug overdose death or injury is highest when drugs are used in secrecy or alone. If you use illicit drugs, speak with the people in your household about what to do in case of an apparent overdose.
No community is immune from deaths due to illicit drug overdose, including Barriere and its surrounding rural areas. Do not hesitate to call 911 if you suspect someone is suffering from a drug overdose, and remember that the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act provides patients and bystanders at these incidents with certain legal immunities to prevent reluctance from seeking first responder assistance, including from the police.
Corporal Rob Welsman is Detachment Commander, Barriere RCMP-GRC
(250) 672-9918 (Front Line) or (250) 672-0084 (Fax)