British Columbia

130 overdose calls in 1 day match record for B.C. paramedics

Paramedics in B.C. recently matched a record for suspected overdose calls in one day, despite a slight drop in overdose deaths so far in 2018 compared to 2017.

No fatalities among calls that came 2 days after income assistance was distributed

Paramedics and firefighters work to revive an overdose patient. Most overdoses, however, happen indoors. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

Paramedics in B.C. recently equalled a record for suspected overdose calls in one day, despite a slight drop in overdose deaths so far in 2018 compared to 2017.

B.C. Emergency Health Services said there were 130 calls for suspected overdoses on July 27, which matches a record set in April 2017. There were no fatalities among those calls.

Linda Lupini, an executive vice-president for the service, says the load is a strain for paramedics, who were on the front lines of the opioid epidemic long before a state of emergency was declared April 14, 2016.

"It's very hard on them," she said. "We do a lot of work with resiliency and debriefing to keep them in a state where they can continue to respond."

Link to income assistance

Lupini says the 130 calls came two days after income assistance was distributed.

The B.C. Coroners Service says more fatal overdoses occur during the days following income assistance payments.

Lupini says the service often sees an average of 50 calls on those Wednesdays, with spikes up to 80 or 90 on the following days — 130, though, is unusual.

She says most likely another contributing factor was more toxic illicit drugs circulating on the streets than usual.

Paramedics work to revive a woman who overdosed in a public washroom. (Fred Gagnon/CBC)

'Taking its toll'

"The overdose crisis is taking its toll on British Columbia," Lupini said.

The service says the people most at risk of dying from an opioid overdose are those who use alone.

Lupini says officials are working to reduce stigma around drug use so that people can get support.

The latest statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service show that there were 109 drug overdose deaths in May 2018.

That is a 23 per cent decrease over the number of deaths that occurred in May 2017 (141) and a 12 per cent decrease over the number of deaths that occurred in April 2018 (124). 

However, March saw the second-highest number of fatal overdoses in B.C. to date (161), and researchers say it's too early to confirm a downward trend in deaths.

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