Overdose calls across BC last year reached record levels according to newly released figures from BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS).
According to BCEHS, the total number of 911 calls for someone suffering a potential overdose was 27,067 – an increase of 12% over 2019 and an average of 74 calls a day.
“It’s hard for every paramedic who goes to those scenes,” said Penticton paramedic Unit Chief Pat Hussey, in a statement. According to BCEHS, Penticton alone had 474 overdose calls in 2020, up 87% over the previous year.
In addition to the increase in calls, Hussey said the calls themselves have become more complex.
Due to the “medical complexity” of overdose patients combined with the current drug toxicity, Hussey said overdoses require multiple doses of Naloxone, and the patient often has breathing and neurological complications.
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Paramedic Unit Chief Tim Lehman, who works at the ambulance station on East Cordova Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), said a lot has changed in the neighbourhood over the past year, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on overdose volumes.
One thing remaining constant, however, “is an increase in overdoses around cheque day.”
BCEHS said that while every health region in BC saw an increase in overdose calls last year, there was one anomaly: The Vancouver Coastal region, which saw overdose calls decrease by 4%. And within this region, the DTES saw a 14% decrease.
According to BCEHS, the DTES community has averaged more than 5,000 overdose calls a year. In 2020, this number dropped to 4,574 from 5,335 – 761 fewer overdose calls than in 2019.
Overall, however, BCEHS said the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Valley regions continue to have the highest number of overdose calls, noting that the two regions combined account for 50% of BC’s total population.
The figures come three years after the BC government declared a public health emergency due to a spike in overdoses and drug-related deaths since 2015.