British Columbia

B.C. paramedics respond to record number of calls for drug poisonings in a single day

Paramedics in B.C. responded to a record number of calls on Wednesday to help patients who had experienced a drug overdose. 

138 calls in 24 hours was highest volume recorded since public health emergency declared 5 years ago

Paramedic Darren Metta checks over his bike in the storage warehouse prior to a patrol in Vancouver on April 8, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Paramedics in B.C. responded to a record number of calls on Wednesday to help patients who had experienced a drug overdose, according to the ambulance service.

The first responders were called 138 times for overdoses over a 24-hour period. Those figures are nearly double the usual daily number of calls, which is 74.

A statement from B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said it was the most calls "ever recorded since the opioid crisis was declared five years ago."

The toxic drug crisis in B.C. has worsened during the pandemic. Public health measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 push people into isolation, while closed borders have led to an increasingly lethal drug supply.

More than 7,000 people have died as a result of B.C.'s toxic drug supply since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016. Illicit drug toxicity is now the fourth-highest cause of death in the province.

People who use drugs are urged not to use alone, so someone would be able to respond in an emergency. BCEHS said people have a 95-per-cent chance of surviving if paramedics are able to respond.

"This is why paramedics want to stress the importance of not using alone, and to call 911 if you see someone who may be experiencing an overdose," it said in a statement.

Paramedics have only ever responded to more than 130 drug poisoning calls in a 24-hour period twice before: once last month, on March 25, and one in June 2020 with 131 calls each.

The cities with the highest number of calls for help Wednesday were Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.

In response to the worsening crisis, the provincial government said this month it is planning to apply for an exemption to federal drug laws in order to decriminalize simple drug possession. It has also committed to increasing safe drug supplies and providing recovery programs.

Advocates have long warned the safe supply of drugs in B.C. must be expanded to save lives.


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