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No plans for Whistler firefighters to carry life-saving drug

Province has made naloxone available to fire departments across B.C.



Although fire departments in the Lower Mainland now carry a potentially life-saving drug intended to counteract the effects of an overdose, there are currently no plans in place for Whistler firefighters to follow suit.

The Surrey and Vancouver fire departments are the first in B.C. to carry and administer naloxone, designed for patients suffering from an opioid overdose, along with paramedics across the province.

"The Whistler Fire Rescue Service currently has no plans to use naloxone but is reviewing details about the drug to better understand its potential applications," read an emailed statement from the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

The use of naloxone by first responders has been on the rise with a significant increase in drug deaths linked to the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, which is sometimes passed off as other recreational drugs. There were 465 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. last year, with fentanyl detected (alone or in conjunction with other drugs) in an estimated 30 per cent of cases. That's ratio is up from 25 per cent in 2014 and just five per cent in 2012.

Although local police acknowledged fentanyl as a growing issue in the Lower Mainland, Whistler RCMP has yet to come across a confirmed case of the deadly drug, according to Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair.

As part of the provincial program, Victoria amended legislation to allow firefighters to administer naloxone as well as expanding the number of BC Emergency Health Services' paramedics who carry the drug. While highly-trained paramedics — like those in Whistler — have administered the drug for years, this new initiative means an additional 525 community-based paramedics — primarily located in more isolated rural areas — will now be able to carry it for the first time.

"This program recognizes that with the increasing number of overdoses we're seeing, we have to make sure the people on the front lines responding to emergency calls have the right treatment available to save lives," said Health Minister Terry Lake in a release.

Naloxone is an injectable medication that can be easily administered with little training, and doesn't come with any negative side effects if given to a healthy person, according to the B.C. Government.

Earlier this month the BC Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership released a proposed opioid response strategy calling for increased access to naloxone. It urged policymakers to make naloxone a non-prescription medication, and to expand the drug's availability in places like community health centres, acute care settings and other facilities where overdoses can occur.

Meanwhile, a toxicology report has confirmed last month's death of a 32-year-old Whistler man was the result of "a mixed illicit drug overdose," according to the BC Coroners Service; however, fentanyl was not detected.