The Fraser Health Authority has seen the number of naloxone kits go up by nearly 30 per cent year over year, while emergency responses for overdoses have gone down by 22 to 24 per cent in the region. Meanwhile deaths are holding steady compared with last year. (Keri Coles/Black Press file photo)

Take-home naloxone may be replacing 911 calls in parts of Lower Mainland

Naloxone kits handed out up 29% over 2017, ambulance calls and emergency visits down 22-24%, deaths hold steady

Although the number of overdose deaths in the region has remained effectively stable, the number of responses by emergency officials has dropped by more than a fifth in the Fraser Health Authority.

Fraser Health has released its June 2018 report on overdose statistics and the data show significant drops in B.C. Ambulance Service responses (22 per cent) and emergency department visits (24 per cent). For the paramedics, that’s at a total of 2,345 incidents for the first five months of 2018, while emergency departments in the region have received 2,024 overdose patients in the first six months.

Related: B.C. overdose deaths drop in June, but 100+ still dying each month

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Meanwhile, fatal overdoses in the region appear relatively on par with the previous year, with the health authority estimating, based on May 2018 stats, that overdoses will take the lives of 478 people this year. That’s a one per cent drop over 2017.

And new data released Thursday by the B.C. Coroners Service show that plateau in the rate of fatal overdoses in the region has continued into June.

In an email statement, Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell said officials “cannot definitively say why” emergency visits and ambulance calls have declined or slowed faster than deaths in the region.

Related: 130 overdoses in one day has B.C. premier, addiction expert sounding alarm

“We do know that 73 per cent of overdose deaths in our region take place in private residences. … In these situations, people often die with no associated call to 9-1-1 or visit to the emergency department, as no one is around to witness or respond to the overdose.”

Blackwell also noted that naloxone kits are increasingly becoming available to the general public, with more kits distributed and hundreds more sites for naloxone distribution.

According to the most recent data, 6,125 take-home naloxone kits were handed out in the first five months of 2018, a sharp increase (33 per cent) over the same period in 2017. As well, the number of distribution sites took a leap from 84 in May 2017 to 409 in May 2018.

Related: 130 suspected overdoses calls in 1 day, all lives saved: B.C. paramedics

“The widespread availability of Take Home Naloxone enables people to reverse an overdose in the community when one occurs, potentially avoiding a call to 9-1-1 or a trip to the hospital,” Blackwell said.

“If you see signs of an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately and give breaths (every five seconds) until help arrives. Carry a naloxone kit and learn how to properly use it. Take Home Naloxone is available for free for eligible people in community pharmacies.”

While the overdose rate holding steady — so far — is not entirely good news, it would also mark the first year that fatal overdoses don’t increase over the year previous since 2012, which preceded the current crisis.

Related: Drug overdoses continue to kill more than 3 people each day in B.C.: Coroner

Not all communities are affected the same — Surrey, for instance, is looking at a 32 per cent increase year over year, while Abbotsford is projected to see a 57 per cent drop in overdose deaths this year, according to the Fraser Health report.

But the reason for that decline in Abbotsford, while encouraging, is not yet clear to health officials.

“In the coming months, working closely with our community partners, we will continue to build upon our work in Abbotsford and throughout our region to support those who are at risk of overdose,” Blackwell said.

And Thursday’s B.C. Coroners report also indicates a continuing trend of a heavily diminished rate of overdose deaths in Abbotsford, with only 10 deaths in the first six months of 2018. That compares with 52 deaths in Abbotsford in all of 2017, a rate that more than doubles this year.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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