City councillors receive naloxone training
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In a council room at city hall’s Susan A. Thompson building, the mayor of Winnipeg preps to administer opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
Scott Gillingham opens the ampoule containing 0.4 milligrams of medication, puts it in a syringe, and taps it to remove any air bubbles. Then, carefully, he injects it into a small square of rubber meant to replicate a human thigh.
This is the ending of a 90-minute training session for city councillors and their executive assistants on current drug trends, the street market, and how to deliver naloxone injections and nasal sprays.
The mayor’s office reached out to the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to set up the workshop because of increasing reports of civic workers having to admit the life-saving drug, said Gillingham.
“Hearing from our front-line workers about the drugs that are on the street, and specifically, the way that naloxone works, is really important,” he said Monday.
“And you never know, but now that we have some training, it may be that we are in a position some time to administer these life-saving drugs.”
Seven councillors were in attendance Monday, along with Gillingham: Matt Allard (St. Boniface); Shawn Dobson (St. James); Evan Duncan (Charleswood-Tuxedo); Ross Eadie (Mynarski); Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre); John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry); and Vivian Santos (Point Douglas).
Earlier this month, the city said staff at recreation and leisure centres had received nasal spray naloxone kits and training to use them.
Gillingham said a defibrillator and naloxone kit will be set up in the foyer of the mayor’s office. He’s not sure if anyone on council will have to use their training, but he’s happy it’s available.
“If it happens once and we save a life, it’s certainly worth it.”
City councillors currently do not receive group CPR or First Aid training, though it could be a possibility in the future.
WFPS public education co-ordinator Cory Guest said he felt pride when he was asked to provide a workshop to city leadership.
“It’s a strong message to the community, that the city supports people that are struggling with substance use,” he said.
Guest wanted the focus to not solely be on training staff to use naloxone but to understand the context around why they may need to.
“When I agreed to do this, the bigger and more important piece for me was not how to administer the medication naloxone, it was the entire backpiece about the root cause of addiction, substance use, trauma-informed care from a health lens,” he said.
Guest presents similar workshops across Canada and has been with the WFPS for 23 years. In the time since opioids first aggressively hit streets nationwide in 2016, he has seen the number of times paramedics have had to use naloxone increase “dramatically.”
“With the amount of the drugs that are out there, the lethality and the toxicity of those street drugs is something that we’ve never seen before, and I keep saying that, every month, every year that I do these interviews or these stories, I continually say that it’s worse than it was last year,” he said.
“The analogues and opioids we see are incredibly deadly.”
When asked how seeing naloxone need rise impacted his feelings on bringing a safe consumption site to Winnipeg, Guest said it wasn’t his “decision to make,” but the WFPS would support any step made in the name of harm reduction.
“We support harm-reduction strategies, any initiative to help our community is a good thing.”
Gillingham, too, reiterated he isn’t opposed to a supervised consumption site in Winnipeg, and would follow the province’s lead, if it ever began the conversation.
Anyone in a leadership position in Winnipeg should be carrying naloxone and know how to use it, Guest said.
“I think, probably, if you’re engaged in caring for your community, and I mean this, you should have one of these kits. You should have the training, you should have the ability to respond in case you encounter somebody who has overdosed on a drug like fentanyl.”
Guest said WFPS paramedics will hand out naloxone kits while responding to substance use situations, and has handed out 800 kits since November 2021.
WFPS personnel administered naloxone at 2,046 incidents last year.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, January 30, 2023 8:52 PM CST: Shortens headline