Still 'anticipated' fentanyl crisis being met with united front: Coderre

The City of Montreal is inching forward in its response to a rise in fentanyl overdoses in recent weeks, with mayor Denis Coderre signalling the door is open to supplying police and firefighters with lifesaving drug kits to counteract overdoses.

“We have to talk about where we need some more tools,” he told reporters following his meeting with leaders from the police and fire departments, as well as from Montreal Public Health and Urgences-santé, among other health and safety services. “I was reassured about the status of the situation right now, but clearly it’s an anticipated crisis we need to address and face.”

Fentanyl is responsible for a public health crisis in British Columbia—a province that averaged about 200 overdose deaths between 2010 and 2014, that is now on track to see 1,500 overdose deaths in a year in 2017, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

The opioid is used as a powerful pain medication, often in palliative care, but is also used as an inexpensive additive in street drugs, increasing their potency for a low cost.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

It is responsible for thousands of deaths over the past decade across the continent.

Quebec coroner's office confirms 12 people fatally overdosed in Montreal in August. Analysis is still ongoing, but Coderre said on Tuesday it was highly probable the deaths were linked to fentanyl use.

Another 24 people in August were saved during a fentanyl overdose by Naloxone being administered, Coderre also confirmed.

Several Canadian cities have responded to the rise in fentanyl by equipping police officers with Naloxone, but that would require changes to the regulations overseeing the job requirements and duties of Montreal police officers—something that needs to be approved by the provincial government, according to Coderre.

“We need to have a change of rules and it’s important because of the kind of institution [our police force is],” said Coderre. “Eventually, we can talk about a pilot project.”

The pilot project would likely see first responders, possibly including police, supplied with Naloxone in specific high-risk areas.

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet said he is not against having police carry Naloxone, but his priority is for police “to stop the vendors, the distributors.”

“If we can help, we will,” he said. “But I think we should put our effort to stop the people who are selling that stuff.”

“There are other possibilities to look into before we get to the police, but if it can save a life, then why not.”

The meeting came mere hours after police announced it had dismantled two drug rings last Friday, believed to be specializing in the sale of heroin and fentanyl. During seven raids, 10 people were arrested and 19 grams of fentanyl were seized, along with—among various substances—13 grams of heroin, 225 grams of cocaine and 1,153 methamphetamine tablets, Montreal police said in a news release.