Ontario nurses urge resistant city leaders to equip police with naloxone
The Windsor Star ran a good report about the persistent advocacy of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario to persuade the city of Windsor to have officers carry the opioid antidote, and to set up a safe consumption site for users, in order to reduce overdose deaths.
November 30, 2019 – Today the Windsor Star (Canada) published a generally strong piece on the efforts of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) to persuade the city of Windsor to equip its police officers with naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdoses. Trevor Wilhelm reports that the RNAO has been pressuring the local government, including with a petition, to have officers carry the drug in light of what RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun says is a public health crisis. According to the article, city officials maintain that the evidence does not support the practice of carrying naloxone. But Grinspun argues that the evidence is clear, that officers in every other major city in the province carry the drug, and that lives hang in the balance. RNAO also advocates for a safe consumption site for users, another step the city has resisted. The piece might have done more to help readers decide if the research really does support RNAO’s position with regard to the benefits of officers carrying naloxone. But overall this is a valuable look at nursing leaders advocating on a vital public health issue. We thank those responsible.
Follow the evidence
RNAO’s petition reportedly calls for Windsor police chief Pam Mizuno to have officers carry naloxone to treat members of the public and for the city to open a “safe consumption site” to reduce overdose deaths. Grinspun says that the petition, which is an “action alert” on her group’s website, has gotten more than 1,000 signers. Among RNAO’s points are that Windsor is the only major Ontario city where officers do not carry the drug, even though the city does seem to have a significant problem with opioids. According to RNAO, 50 people in Windsor/Essex County died of opioid-related overdoses in 2018, and another 22 died in just the first three months of 2019.
Apparently the petition follows prior tense interactions between RNAO and Windsor officials. Earlier in November Grinspun had publicly raised the issue during a visit to the city, leading to “a minor public spat with Mayor Drew Dilkens,” who reportedly said, “I appreciate the head of nurses from Toronto informing us on what we should be doing in Windsor. But I like to make decisions based on data. There is nothing presented to me that shows arming our officers with naloxone is the right thing to do.” Grinspun reportedly “shot back with a letter to the Star’s editor stating that nurses urge Dilkens to ‘follow the evidence and leave ideology aside.’”
Grinspun adds a lot of spirited advocacy in the comments she makes for this article, starting with a reported comment that the police chief and mayor should be “ashamed.”
I absolutely say shame because it’s peoples’ lives. … More than just shame, it’s outrageous. Windsor can decide to ignore the issue as if it’s not happening. Or your mayor, which I’m sure wants to save lives, and the police chief, which I’m sure wants to save lives, can move on with naloxone and then also with a consumption service. … The syringes are in your yards and your parks, and behind houses and everywhere in the street. … I’m doing it for the people that are about to lose their lives in the streets of Windsor. … It’s about time to move because saving lives is important whether it’s a heart attack or an overdose. All of those are diseases. The evidence is clear on this.
Neither the mayor nor the police chief comment for this article. But the police officers’ union, the Windsor Police Association, seems happy to weigh in. Its president Constable Jason DeJong notes that his group wants officers to carry naloxone for their own protection. He says doing so “can also save lives in the community, and that is part of our mandate in policing.”
This article is generally a great showcase for nursing advocacy. It gives Grinspun and RNAO a lot of space to advocate on a public health issue of vital importance, and the nurses do not miss the opportunity. Grinspun uses some strong rhetoric, but also some data, with the note about the practice of other Ontario cities and the specifics about recent deaths in Windsor. Of course, there is some tension between the nurse from Toronto and the local government officials, but that is often a feature of strong advocacy. In response to the mayor’s claim that he has seen no “data” to suggest that have the officers carry naloxone is a good idea, and Grinspun’s seemingly contrary statement that “the evidence is clear,” the piece might have explored whether any research has shown potential benefits from taking this kind of step. (Do you have some? Send it our way, we’ll link to it.) But on balance the report is very helpful.
See Trevor Wilhelm‘s article “Ontario nurses group launches petition to get Windsor police to carry naloxone” in the Windsor Star, posted on November 30, 2019.
Join the RNAO’s petition here to Demand an end to overdose deaths in Windsor.