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

An RDKB bylaw officer on Thursday, March 4, concluded their investigation into land-use violations reported at the disused Broadacres facility at 860 Carson Rd., according to planning and development manager Donna Dean. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
No ‘homeless shelter’ at rural Grand Forks’ Broadacres, says RDKB

Regional District planning manager Donna Dean says there’s no camping happening there, either

Edward Wright’s trial will continue at the city courthouse later this spring, the court heard. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks man stands trial for break and enter at flood-damaged property

Edward “Joe” Wright is accused of an August 2019 property crime in the city.

Cat defenders Kimberly Feeny (left) and Zeke Sijohn (centre) stand beside Councillor Neil Krog after signing a lease at city hall for the Boundary Helping Hands’ cat shelter. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks’ city hall leases vacant home for cat shelter

Boundary Helping Hands’ Chair Kimberly Feeny said the shelter hopes to start adopting cats soon

Christopher Blair McLean appeared at the Grand Forks courthouse on Wednesday, March 3. File photo
Greenwood man won’t stand trial for alleged city assault

The man was awaiting trial in Grand Forks

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

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

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

Most Read