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Naloxone officers not at risk of prosecution says drugs lead ACC

No potential for prosecution or PIRC inquiry for officers using naloxone, says Police Scotland's Assistant Chief Constable.

Police Scotland is championing its rollout of naloxone, with 151 officers so far having elected to carry the drug to help treat opioids users who have overdosed.

Last week an officer even administered the spray just two hours after completing training. 

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie, Head of Drug Strategy for Police Scotland, said he was pleased his officers were disregarding "misinformation" about naloxone and taking it up.

“Police officers will see through that. They’re more than smart enough to understand when they’re being sold a pup when it comes to information. And when they come to the training, and when they get the facts and the truth - that's persuasive enough.”

He said that’s why they were seeing around 85 per cent of those who attend training taking it up.

“That’s as strong a repudiation as you’re going to get to the misinformation and, quite frankly, fear mongering that’s come from some quarters,” said ACC Ritchie.

In England, West Midlands Police frontline officers are carrying naloxone with Durham using the spray in the custody environment. North Wales Police is also running a pilot.

David Hamilton is the chair of the Scottish Police Federation. He said the “unique nature of the office of constable presents legal risks and jeopardy that the force, government and prosecuting authorities refuse to mitigate against”.

He went on to say: “SPF were assured that carriage of naloxone would be on a voluntary basis but since the poor take up on the first course, we have been contacted by a number of officers concerned at the misinformation and coercion being applied by the force, to younger officers in particular. 

“We have provided advice to our members and have highlighted the risks to the Force. Nobody can say they haven’t been warned.”

In another circular issued to all members on 5 March on naloxone, the federation states that the National Police Chiefs’ Council did not back officers using the spray.  However DCC Jason Harwin, NPCC Drugs lead, voiced his support for officers carrying the spray last month.

“We’re seeing a change to that traditional attitude to naloxone,” said ACC Ritchie.

He disregarded the idea that officers could be vulnerable to allegations of assault or misconduct investigations.

“The Federation advocate CPR, and putting someone in the recovery position. Surely that's the same thing. It’s as ridiculous to think that you would be subject to legal proceedings for CPR, putting somebody in the recovery position as you would for spraying a harmless spray up their nose.”

He said the Crown Office in Scotland has said the use of naloxone is a life saving measure, not a criminal act. An officer of the crown attended the training this week and said the only potential for such an allegation would be if you held someone down to administer the nasal spray against their will – which is unlikely as anyone experiencing an overdose is unresponsive.

He also said the force had engaged with Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) who said they wouldn’t take referrals for use of’ naloxone.

Kirsten Horsburgh is Strategy Coordinator at the Scottish Drugs Forum, a membership-based organisation described as ‘Scotland’s national resource of expertise on drugs and related issue’.

Ms Horsburgh leads their work on drug death prevention.

She said Scotland is in the midst of a drug deaths crisis with the highest rates of preventable drug overdoses across the whole of Europe and opioids are a contributing factor to 86 per cent of drug deaths and 

“Naloxone is one of the safest medications that anyone can administer for the purpose of saving a life. The naloxone programme aims to get the medication in to the hands of anyone who is likely to witness an overdose or be in a position to intervene. Police officers are one of a number of groups who fit this criteria and can assist in national efforts to prevent this enormous loss of lives.

“The involvement of police officers to carry naloxone is by no means seen as the solution to this crisis, but an important part of a nationwide approach to save lives and prevent the devastation of families and communities.”

She also said if naloxone was used on someone who did not have opioids in their system, it would do nothing and cause no harm.

“The independent evaluation of this test of change will determine the evidence as to whether or not this is a worthwhile initiative. Many of us already know the answer,” added Ms Horsburgh.

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