British Columbia

'It's really promising': Vancouver pilot project aims to prevent repeated overdoses

It’s been four weeks since Vancouver firefighters and Vancouver Coastal Health teamed up to help fight the overdose crisis.

Firefighters and outreach workers work together to follow up with overdose victims

Vancouver Coastal Health and the city's fire department have teamed up to try to reduce the number of overdoses. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver Coastal Health and the city's fire department have teamed up in an effort to reduce the number of repeat overdoses. 

The pilot project was created in an attempt to break the cycle by following up with overdose patients. 

For the last four weeks, fire crews and health-care workers have reached out to overdose victims days after they were treated. 

"When a firefighter attends a call and sees the same person they helped revive days ago for the fourth, fifth and sixth time, this takes a huge toll on everyone," said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

Overwhelming response

The results have been really promising, said Vancouver Fire Rescue Services Capt. Jonathan Gormick.

He said the strategy is innovative and is, by no means, outside the fire department's scope. 

"The results are immediate, impactful," Gormick added. "And this simple tool is addressing massive barriers such as homelessness, isolation, and stigma."

A Vancouver firefighter heads out on a medical call in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He says it's very difficult to track overdose patients once immediate treatment is done, noting many don't make it to a hospital where further treatment can be offered. 

"We are already attending these patients, providing emergency care to reverse life threatening situations, and now what we're able to do is further address all of the things that led to that life threatening situation," he added. 

He says about 25 people have been successfully connected with Coastal Health. 

The overdose crisis in B.C. was declared a public health emergency more than three years ago.