SURREY — Long before the public knew of the infamous drug fentanyl that killed nearly 1,000 people in B.C. last year, a Surrey Mountie was lobbying for officers to be able to administer its antidote.
“We were starting to see fentanyl on the streets two-and-a-half to three years ago,” said Inspector Shawna Baher, Surrey RCMP’s Proactive Enforcement Officer.
“At that time I realized this is something concerning the health for not only members but the people we police.”
Baher, who recently earned an award for her efforts at the annual Officer in Charge Awards, got to work writing a business case for officers to be able to carry naloxone, also called Narcan, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
At the time, firefighters weren’t even carrying the overdose-fighting drug yet.
She sought for officers to carry the nasal naloxone spray – something that wasn’t yet authorized in the country by Health Canada. At that time, only injectable naloxone was approved.
“We pushed that to E-Divison in B.C., and also to Ottawa,” she explained.
“We were able to get the actual approval the same time the nasal spray was approved in Canada. So we were already ahead of the game. I’m proud of the RCMP for being progressive.”
In October of 2016, carrying and administering the drug was approved for RCMP across Canada.
Surrey RCMP used naloxone just two days later.
Baher used it two days after that.
“Since that time we’ve used it on 90 individuals,” she said, acknowledging it can take several hits of the drug to reverse an overdose. “We’ve only lost two individuals and it wasn’t because of naloxone, it was because by the time we arrived it was too late.”
This year alone, it’s saved 50 lives in Surrey.
Across Canada, it’s been used 177 times, she added, including in Ontario and New Brunswick. It’s particularly useful, she noted, for smaller communities where firefighters and ambulance aren’t necessarily first on scene.
Baher said she was “surprised” and “humbled” to be honoured at the Officer in Charge Awards, which recognizes “outstanding service and dedication and public safety.”
“I was one person, there was a lot of people behind us. It took a team,” she told the Now-Leader. “Thankfully we have a great partnership with the Fraser Health Authority, they were really interested in us going forward, same with BC Centre for Disease Control. And I had a lot of people in upper management that listened at the RCMP.”
Though it’s not traditional for RCMP to administer medicine, she said it’s been heartwarming to see so many officers eagerly sign up.
“Every member who’s gone out there with naloxone is a hero, as far as I’m concerned. They’ve saved a life.”
She said some might be surprised to learn naloxone isn’t just used by police in the city’s north end, but across all Surrey communities.
“We’re using it everywhere,” she said, adding that it’s affecting all ages as well. “We’ve administered it to people in their 60s, and their teens.
“We’re in the business of helping people. And this is just one more way to do that.”
But her efforts surrounding overdose reversal weren’t the only ones she was awarded for. In fact she received three, in all.
The second was in relation to a bank robbery in North Surrey where the robber fled on a bicycle, and was arrested. The third award was for her efforts raising awareness – and education – about mental health within the RCMP.
“I’ve been a member over 25 years, and mental health and policing has always been something that’s not necessarily neglected but not thought of,” said Baher. “Historically in the RCMP, no one talked about mental health. We talked about physical health, not mental health, and if you talked about mental health, it was that old adage you are weaker. So we’re trying to make the conversation very open.”
Baher said she’s seen many fellow officers struggle with issues of mental health over her more than two decades in the force. Officers who, with help, might have thrived.
That’s why she pushed for Road to Mental Readiness training and she proudly stated that more than 93 per cent of Surrey RCMP members now have taken the course.
Baher explained it’s about “dealing with and teaching resilience” within the RCMP.
“Policing, we run towards other people’s prolems where other people run away. So we obviously get affected by it so this course teaches resilience,” she said.
Helping others seems to be a theme in her award-winning efforts.
“I worked my way up through the ranks, and as I become more of a manager I’m still responsible for people, and for me, I want people to be happy, healthy and safe. If I can do that I will,” said Baher.