A grim record of overdose calls has been recorded in British Columbia ahead of the seventh anniversary of the province declaring a public health emergency due to overdoses.
On March 22, paramedics responded to 205 overdose calls, the highest in a single day, according to BC Emergency Health Services (BC EHS). The previous single-day record was 203 calls on Jan. 19, 2022.
March also saw the highest 30-day average of overdose calls and the most consecutive days — 19 — where paramedics responded to 100 or more overdose poisonings.
B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to declare a public health emergency over overdoses on April 14, 2016, following a 30 per cent increase in overdose deaths from the year prior.
Data released by the BC EHS shows that in 2022, paramedics attended 33,654 overdose incidents, an average of 92 a day, a five per cent decrease from 2021. It marked the second-highest year for reported overdoses.
With 9,369 reported calls this year, B.C. is on pace to set a new record for poisoning calls and the most naloxone doses administered to reverse the toxic effects of opioids.
According to the BC Coroners Service, most illicit drug toxicity deaths occur when people use alone, which was the impetus behind the Connect By Lifeguard app.
The app, released in June 2022, enables paramedics to connect people who have experience with drug overdoses but want to avoid going to the hospital. They are given support through safe supplies, housing and peer support.
"Since June 2022, there have been 78 patients who have been connected to services rather than going to a hospital," according to the data released by BC EHS.
The app has already saved 65 lives in B.C.
Overdoses are happening across B.C.
Brian Twaites has been working as a paramedic for decades and has watched as the drug supply has become more toxic over the years.
“It’s frustrating that the numbers are getting worse,” he says.
He says the overdoses are not just happening in Vancouver but all over the province and with all walks of life.“This is happening everywhere … it’s in the west side of Vancouver, it’s in the Kootenays, it’s in the north,” he says. “It’s professionals, it’s (people experiencing) homeless, it’s everybody,” he says. “It could be your friend, or it could be your relative.”
Twaites worked as a paramedic for 36 years, mainly in the city’s Downtown Eastside, before taking an administrative job with British Columbia Emergency Health Services this year.
He says as the drugs become more toxic, mixed with fentanyl and other substances, paramedics have had to work harder and use more of the overdose reversal drug naloxone to save lives.
“Now we’re finding we’re doing four or five times the normal dosing of naloxone,” he said.
He’s asking people that are considering doing drugs to do one thing.
“Don’t do this alone. Make sure if you’re going to use the drugs that are out there, make sure someone is with you,” he says.
How to use naloxone?
BC EHS has a step-by-step process to make administering naloxone easy for anyone and can be viewed in detail on their website or by viewing this demo video.
- With files from The Canadian Press