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

High winds Friday made perfect conditions for kite-surfers near the White Rock Pier. (Aaron Hinks photo)
PHOTOS: Kite-surfers take flight near White Rock Pier

Aerial performance put on near iconic waterfront attraction

White Rock City Hall (Peace Arch News photo)
City of White Rock seeking input on draft financial plan

Plan includes tax rate increase of 4.28 per cent

B.C. researchers are asking for the public’s help in monitoring the bat population. (Cathy Koot photo)
Semiahmoo Peninsula residents asked to monitor bat activity

Researchers keeping eye on spread of white-nose syndrome

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

The Alzheimer Society of BC is hosting a number of webinars next month to help people prepare for financial and healthcare needs. (Contributed photo)
Alzheimer Society invites White Rock residents to series of educational webinars

Planning Ahead: Do it Now! webinar to be held March 10

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his 'Community Connections' videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Lorne Ginther

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for missing Chilliwack woman sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother Shaelene Bell

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read