City firefighters won’t carry anti-overdose drug

Under current rules, firefighters have to wait for a doctor’s permission to administer naloxone

City firefighters won’t carry naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, in their kits, City council members were told on Monday, April 4.

Langley City firefighters won’t carry the anti-overdose drug naloxone, even though the department is seeing an increase in related medical calls.

City Fire Chief Rory Thompson told the April 4 meeting of City council that if the current numbers hold, Langley Fire Rescue will have handled 240 to 260 overdose cases this year, compared to 80 last year.

Much of that, Chief Thompson said, is because of fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic painkiller that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

“We’ve had a bit of a shift,” Thompson said.

Despite the hike in overdose cases, Thompson said a review by the department found there would be no advantage to having firefighters carry naloxone.

Under the current rules, he said, firefighters have to phone a doctor to get permission to administer the anti-overdose drug, while ambulance paramedics can make the decision at the scene.

“Usually the ambulance is already there (before Langley Fire Rescue could get permission),” Thompson said.

In January, the review showed paramedics arrived within three minutes of the fire department at 32 medical calls in Langley City.

The Surrey fire department, which does carry naloxone, has only used the drug twice over three months and several hundred responses, Thompson added.

He said the Langley department will continue to monitor the situation, but “at this time, we don’t think that’s the right step (carrying naloxone) for us to take.”

Langley Township fire department has also decided against carrying the anti-overdose drug.

Earlier this year, firefighters in Surrey and Vancouver became the first to carry the kits as a pilot project.

Illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. jumped 27 per cent in 2015 and nearly 50 per cent in the Fraser Region, according to the B.C. Coroner’s Service.

An estimated 30 per cent of overdose deaths involved fentanyl — either the potent opiate by itself or mixed with other drugs — and that proportion has steadily climbed over the past three years.

The B.C. Ministry of Health estimates that 370 opioid drug overdoses have been reversed by naloxone.

— with files from Monique Tamminga

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