May marks busiest month ever for opioid overdose calls to paramedics in Waterloo region

May was the busiest month ever for Waterloo region's paramedics when it came to responding to opioid overdose calls. Now, paramedics are offering up cards with information about how people can find treatment.

Paramedics now handing out cards encouraging recovery at overdose calls

Paramedics responded to 144 calls for opioid overdoses in May, the busiest month ever for the service for those calls. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

May marked the busiest month ever in Waterloo region for opioid overdose calls to paramedics, and now, paramedics have started handing out cards with contact information for treatment.

Deputy paramedic chief Rob Crossan said that in a large majority of the cases, a person who has been revived from an overdose refuses further care from paramedics.

"They're in a bit of a denial phase there. Like, 'No, obviously, I'm sitting here talking to you, so no, I wasn't near death. I'm fine,'" Crossan said.

Now, paramedics hand the person a card with a list of resources, including peer support groups that can help a person seek out treatment options and talk to others who have done it.

Crossan said it's hoped some of the people will take the card, make a call and start looking into treatment options.

"Before, we were just like, 'Well, we'd really like you to come. If you don't want to come, we can't force you. Best of luck.' And we're still in that position, but at least now we can give them some resources to take with them," he said.

38 deaths so far this year

Statistics from the Waterloo Regional Police Service show that as of the end of May, 38 people had died from suspected opioid overdoses. That's up from 22 deaths one year earlier.

Crossan says the number of opioid overdose calls paramedics are responding to are "significantly higher" this year compared to last.

In the first five months of the year, paramedics responded to 613 opioid overdose calls, up from 327 by the end of May 2018.

For just the month of May, paramedics went to 144 calls — their busiest month ever in Waterloo region. The previous busiest month was June 2018 when paramedics responded to 85 calls.

"I was shocked when I really dug into the numbers," Crossan said.

He credits the public naloxone program, where anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy, for helping keep the number of deaths down.

But, he says, naloxone "is like a finger in the dyke. It slows down that flood but it's not a cure."

The Waterloo Regional Police Service released these statistics about opioid overdoses looking at the number of calls between January and the end of May for 2018 and 2019. They also reported on the locations of calls officers responded to. The numbers differ from the numbers provided by paramedics as police officers don't respond to all overdose calls where paramedics do, paramedic deputy chief Rob Crossan says. (Waterloo Regional Police Service)

High hopes for consumption sites

Statistics released recently by Waterloo Regional Police Service also showed where officers and paramedics are responding to opioid overdose calls.

Those numbers showed almost half were at residences, such as homes, apartments and condominiums.

The next highest number were shelters, while the third highest was public property and open areas.

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry has previously defended the city's resistance to a supervised consumption site in the downtown Galt area by arguing people are using opioids in their homes.

In an interview in March, McGarry told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo some people who die from overdoses do so in their own home.

"So we also know that the consumption and treatment site, if it were to operate in the community, doesn't reach everybody," McGarry said.

Crossan said he's heard that argument, but he's also heard from advocates like Jenny Kirby, who works a full-time job and says she'd use the site.

Kirby has spoken to regional councillors many times to explain the need for a supervised consumption treatment site.

Crossan says paramedics are hopeful the interim site in Kitchener, which is expected to be up and running by the end of August, will help turn the tide of the opioid crisis.

"It's meant to be one day, instead of turning right and going to the consumption side, maybe we can get you onto the treatment side," he said.


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