A written message is seen attached to a pair of shoes hung on the Burrard Bridge in remembrance of victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A written message is seen attached to a pair of shoes hung on the Burrard Bridge in remembrance of victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

B.C.’s overdose crisis has worsened from an already-dire state amid the pandemic and new alarming statistics from the province’s paramedics are painting a grim picture of just how bad it has gotten.

BC Emergency Health Services announced Wednesday that paramedics responded to 27,067 overdose calls in 2020, up 12 per cent from the year prior. That’s roughly 75 calls each day.

“It’s hard for every paramedic who goes to those scenes,” Pat Hussey, Penticton paramedic unit chief, said in a statement. The Okanagan city had a 87-per-cent increase in overdose calls year-over-year, responding to 474 incidents in 2020.

Smaller communities saw the largest spike in calls – highlighting the rural reach the illicit drug trade has in the province. This included in Fort Nelson, with 20 calls (a 233 per cent increase), followed by Keremeos, with 16 calls (up 167 per cent year-over-year).

READ MORE: B.C. paramedics responded to a record-breaking 2,700 overdose calls in July

ALSO READ: B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

Other worrisome upticks were seen in Sechelt with 87 calls (a 112 per cent increase), Terrace with 208 calls (up 112 per cent) and Houston with 22 calls (up 100 per cent).

The Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Valley regions continued to have the highest number of overdose calls as they include 50 per cent of the province’s population. Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria remained the top communities for overdose calls and subsequent deaths.

Health officials and advocates have said that the pandemic exacerbated the grip of illicit drugs – with toxicity increasing – as well as forced many drug users into social isolation, using alone.

BC Coroners Service has not yet released overdose death statistics for December 2020. Between January and November, 1,548 British Columbians fatally overdosed.

ALSO READ: Some B.C. nurses given green light to prescribe safe drugs amid overdose spike

On the front lines, Hussey said the pandemic’s impacts have not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity. With current drug toxicity levels, overdoses often require multiple doses of the opioid reversing antidote, naloxone.

The latest statistics offered one glimmer of hope: as every other region saw an uptick in calls, the hardest-hit community saw a decrease.

According to BC EHS, the Downtown Eastside saw a 14 per cent decrease in calls. There, the average is 5,000 calls a year, but that dropped to 4,574 in 2020. The busiest day for overdose calls continued to happen on the day welfare cheques were released, which is the third Wednesday of each month.

Paramedic unit chief Tim Lehman, who works at the ambulance station in the heart of the community, said paramedics receive plenty of support from harm-reduction agencies and volunteers in the area. Everyone also has naloxone, he said.

Under Canada’s Good Samaritan Act, anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose is protected from charges related to drug possession and are not liable for injuries or death of the person suffering an overdose.

Overdose Response in BC Communities in 2020 by Ashley Wadhwani on Scribd


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

overdose

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Brady
‘Don’t give up’: Surrey man touts RAAC clinic for opioid addiction

Fraser Health has opened a second Rapid Access to Addiction Care clinic in the region

Multiple firearms were among items seized by Surrey RCMP from a Whalley condo this week. (Surrey RCMP photo)
Firearms, drugs among items seized by police from Whalley condo

Investigation began after report of vehicle robbery with use of firearm, RCMP say

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia’s (CFSEU-BC) Uniform Gang Enforcement Team (UGET) has arrested a man who was on the run for nearly a decade. (File photo)
9-year search for international drug trafficking suspect ends with arrest at YVR

Khamla Wong, charged in 2012, taken into custody Feb. 24 by BC-CFSEU

Pixabay image
Surrey council moves to update city’s telecommunication antennas policy

But councillor says health and safety protocols are nearly 40 years old

This week, in advance of the Canadian Junior Hockey League trade deadline, the Surrey Eagles traded the playing right to Cade Alami to the Prince George Spruce Kings. Alami left the BCHL last month to play in the United States. (Damon James photo)
Surrey Eagles add, subtract from roster as junior-hockey trade deadline passes

With BC Hockey League season still up in air, team makes flurry of moves

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

The last three wild northern spotted owls live near the Spuzzum Watershed outside of Hope. The province recently ordered a halt to logging for at least a year to give the owls a chance to survive.  (Photo/Jared Hobbs)
Logging halted in northern spotted owl habitat near Hope

Halt will last at least a year, gives time to formulate survival plan for Northern Spotted Owl

Several BC Ferries sailings are cancelled Friday morning due to adverse weather. (Black Press Media File)
Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay ferry sailing cancelled due to high winds, sea state

Adverse weather causes cancellations across several BC Ferries routes

The BC Prosecution Service announced last year that it was appointing lawyer Marilyn Sandford as a special prosecutor to review the case, following media inquiries about disclosure issues linked to a pathologist involved in the matter. (Black Press Media files)
Possible miscarriage of justice in B.C. woman’s conviction in toddler drowning: prosecutor

Tammy Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty in 2013 to the lesser charge

A kid in elementary school wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Metro Creative)
Union asks why an elementary school mask rule wouldn’t work in B.C. if it does elsewhere

B.C. education minister announced expansion of mask-wearing rules in middle, high school but not elementary students

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: B.C. teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Most Read