Users overdose minutes after cashing assistance cheques: Surrey paramedic

Paramedics often see a spike in drug overdoses on the day of the month when people on social assistance receive their cheques. On Wednesday night in Surrey, paramedics there reported a more alarming twist: people were overdosing right outside the stores that cash their cheques.

'They're going right into the Money Marts and there's a dealer outside waiting for them,' says paramedic

Paramedics in Vancouver attend to an overdose patient after three doses of Narcan fail to revive him. Paramedics in Surrey have reported seeing drug users buy drugs and then overdose outside of stores that allow people to cash their cheques instantly rather than waiting for them to clear. (CBC)

Paramedics often see a spike in drug overdoses on the day of the month when people receive social assistance cheques. On Wednesday night in Surrey, paramedics there reported a more alarming twist: people were overdosing right outside the stores that cash their cheques.

"There seems to be a little bit of one-stop shopping happening," said Bronwyn Barter, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

"A lot of the drug users are taking their welfare support cheques. They're going right into the Money Marts and there's a dealer outside waiting for them," Barter said.

"A couple of our paramedics have reported having to pick up overdoses and treat overdoses right outside these Money Marts."

Dave Leary, a paramedic with the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said crews working in Surrey Wednesday night reported seeing people buying drugs and overdosing right outside of the cheque-cashing stores.

Drug overdoses spike when cheques arrive

"They're literally buying drugs right there outside where they're cashing their cheques, and then they're overdosing right out front," Leary said.

The trend of drug overdoses spiking on the day people receive social income assistance has also been noted in various studies.

On Dec. 22, there were 100 suspected overdose or poisoning events in B.C., according to the B.C. Emergency Health Services, which bases its information on 911 calls.

Vancouver Fire Rescue told CBC News that it responded to approximately 47 medical calls yesterday, and about half were overdoses.

Vancouver Coastal Health also reported that there were 666 visits to the supervised drug site, Insite, between 12:01 a.m. Dec. 21 and 6 a.m. Dec. 22.

The health authority also said that the four overdose prevention sites were also busy Wednesday, with between 11 and 80 injections recorded at each site.

Paramedics under pressure

These four overdose prevention sites — where staff monitor users and respond if an overdose occurs — are just a few of several sites recently opened in Vancouver, Victoria and Surrey by the provincial government in response to the overdose crisis.

Leary, who was working in Surrey Wednesday night, said the number of overdoses in that city was not significantly higher than normal, but said crews and resources are under pressure responding to both overdoses and other emergencies.

"The crews are stressed, they're overwhelmed ... and it's not just the overdose patients that we're worried about, there's the regular public," he said.

"They're waiting long periods of time for ambulances," said Leary.

Drug overdoses in B.C. spiked in November this year, with 128 people dying of an illicit drug overdose, according to the BC Coroners Service.

That's an average of more than four people a day.

There have been 755 overdose deaths in the province since Jan. 1 to 755, an increase of 70.4 per cent over the same period last year.

With files from Farrah Merali.