The fentanyl-fuelled overdose crisis in the region is not just impacting ‘drug users and whatnot

The fentanyl-fuelled overdose crisis in the region is not just impacting ‘drug users and whatnot

First responders feeling the fentanyl crush

Overdose-related emergency calls are 'through the roof' and the region is at least 25 ambulances short to handle regular medical demands.

Ambulance drivers and fire crews are acutely feeling the crush of calls during the fentanyl crisis, a problem that’s thinning available resources and pushing up wait times for emergency medical help.

Surrey’s fire chief says fentanyl overdose-related calls are “through the roof,” and the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. (APBC) warns the crisis is worsening a problem that was already dire.

“The workload placed on us is huge,” said APBC spokesperson Dave Leary, who is a paramedic in the Surrey/North Delta area.

“This isn’t just impacting the drug users and whatnot,” Leary said. “This impacts everybody, because these high volumes of overdoses… all these other calls that would come in every day, wait now.”

Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis told The Leader while fire crews’ response times for medical calls is still well below the provincially mandated limits, they are getting longer.

And firefighters are stressed from the continual calls, which don’t seem to be abating at all.

However, wait times for ambulances are only getting worse because of the fentanyl crisis.

“It’s not unusual that I go to a call and they’ve been waiting an hour, two hours,” Leary said.

“That’s unacceptable. We don’t know when someone calls 911 what’s happening on the other end of the line.

“It’s scary. Somebody not breathing? In four to six minutes, they’re going to die… That bothers me more than anything, when I go to calls and they have been waiting.”

Prior to the current fentanyl crisis – which has seen drug overdoses skyrocket in recent months – the Metro Vancouver region was short 29 ambulances, Leary said.

Dave Leary quoteThe province recently announced a $5-million injection of funding for paramedic services, which will fund stationary medical support units in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and high overdose areas of Surrey.

The stations will act as a re-supply area for paramedics and will furnish users with information about how to stay safe.

Paramedics will also use bikes or ATVs to respond more quickly in hard-to-navigate areas.

But Metro region is still short 25 ambulances – and that doesn’t account for the extra ones that are needed to address this crisis.

In October, overdoses claimed 63 lives across B.C., the highest monthly death toll since April.

The total deaths reported by the B.C. Coroners Service stands at 622 for the year up to the end of October, up markedly from the 397 deaths in the same 10 months of 2015.

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl continues to be linked to approximately 60 per cent of the fatalities – 332 cases in all or three times as many as the same period last year.

More than one-third of the total overdose deaths – 211 – have happened in the Fraser Health region, compared to 147 in Vancouver Coastal, 120 on Vancouver Island and 108 in the Interior.

The top cities where deaths have occurred so far this year are Vancouver (124), Surrey (76), Victoria (51), Kelowna (37), Kamloops (31), Abbotsford (28) and Maple Ridge (24).

Earlier in the year, “I would see an overdose every four-day block pattern,” Leary said. “We’re getting to where we’re seeing multiple a day.”

He added that paramedics are having to transport the patients to hospital as well, which is a further strain on paramedic resources.

The antidote to opioid overdose – naloxone – isn’t a perfect curbside fix every time, Leary said.

“That drug… doesn’t last as long as the opiate that’s in their body. So when they’re administered (naloxone), there’s a high likelihood that they could relapse into respiratory arrest and then go into cardiac arrest,” meaning a hospital trip is usually required.

Read the other stories in The Leader’s special series:

The faces of fentanyl

‘I can’t do this again’

More on fentanyl:

China, RCMP ink deal to battle deadly flow of fentanyl

Fentanyl linked to two overdose deaths in White Rock

Wave of overdoses in Delta spark community forum

 

 

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

Just Posted

Eternity Medical Equipment’s ECAN95 masks have received Health Canada approval and CSA certification. (Eternity Medical Equipment photo)
South Surrey N-95 equivalent manufacturer launches mask recycling program

Eternity Medical Equipment partners with Ontario-based LifeCycle Revive

Surrey Fire Service at a garage fire in the 14400-block of 82A Ave on March 22, 2021. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
‘Perfect storm’ of variants, increasing COVID cases are concerning for Surrey fire chief

Between police and fire, Larry Thomas said there are 8 confirmed cases, 18 others isolating

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Small plane crashes at Delta’s Boundary Bay Airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

Signage on a South Surrey sidewalk reminds pedestrians to respect social-distancing guidelines. (Photo: Tracy Holmes)
Surrey records 4,400 COVID-19 cases in March

New cases almost doubled between February, March

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

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

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read