911 calls for overdoses surging in Hamilton

Emergency calls for opioid overdoses in Hamilton surged to their highest levels on record last month, new numbers show.

Paramedics responded to 83 ambulance calls in March for opioid overdoses

Emergency calls for opioid overdoses in Hamilton are rising, the city says. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Emergency calls for opioid overdoses in Hamilton surged to their highest levels on record last month, new numbers show.

Paramedics responded to 83 ambulance calls in March for opioid overdoses, more than doubling the 40 calls they received in March of 2018.

Emergency calls also rose to 81 in February, up from just 23 in the same month in 2018.

"We do have an issue. Something different is happening," said Michelle Baird, director of epidemiology, wellness and communicable disease at Hamilton Public Health.

"It's not a problem that's going away quickly."

So far this year, Hamilton paramedics have responded to 213 calls for suspected opioid overdoses. That's almost halfway to last year's total of 450, just under four months into the year.

The city has issued public warnings about purple or blue heroin circulating in Hamilton. That's a highly toxic, synthetic-laced heroin that the city says can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea for several days after use.

"This serves as an important reminder to the community that street drugs continue to be cut (mixed) with toxic substances," the city warned in a statement.

Former opioid addict Nicole and Debbie Bang, the manager of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Womankind addiction service, explain prescription painkiller addiction. 3:57

Baird told CBC News a substance like that could be causing 911 calls to spike.

"But we don't know for sure what's happening," she said. "We suspect it could be a different product people are using."

Opioid-related deaths just keep rising in the city, as no one has been able to get a handle on a crisis sweeping both Canada and the U.S. The Public Health Agency of Canada announced Wednesday that from January 2016 to September 2018, more than 10,300 Canadians died as a resulted of an apparent opioid-related overdose.

"The data released today remind us of the significant impact the opioid crisis is having on Canadians from all walks of life and from all across our country," said Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor in a statement. 

"Each death is a tragedy that takes its toll on families, friends and communities."

A container with syringes, alcohol wipes and Naoloxone kits sits behind the table where people can use drugs under supervision at an injection site in Hamilton. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

There were 88 Hamiltonians who died from opioid overdose in Hamilton in 2017 — a death rate 72 per cent higher than the rest of the province.

Preliminary data for the first nine months of 2018 shows there were 89 such deaths, already eclipsing the total from the year before.

"This is a significant concern for the city," Baird said.

In the midst of this crisis, the city's supervised injection site received provincial approval late last month, along with 14 other sites across Ontario with the "greatest need."

Currently, the site sees about 500 visits a month, Baird said, outlining the need for this sort of service in Hamilton.

So far, about 60 overdoses have been reversed there, the city says.


About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.


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