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

Alexander Ericksons award-winning piece, The Provider, on display at the Kitimat Museum and Archives (Photo Frieda Design School)
Kitimat Museum and Archives host Freda Diesing school art exhibition

Local Kitimat art exhibition from students of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art

Security has been stepped up at both Kitimat General Hospital in Kitimat, pictured here, and at the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. (File photo)
Stillbirth reaction leads to more hospital security

Staff, physicians facing threats and harassment

Workers at Kitimat General Hospital were presented with a large variety of food packages in appreciation of the last year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The donations came via local Epicurean representative Kerri Weightman who collected money for the purchases. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Hospital workers receive food donation

Workers at Kitimat General Hospital were presented with a large variety of… Continue reading

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Most Read