High stakes

Surge of overdoses straining Ottawa ERs

According to new numbers released Thursday by Ottawa Public Health, all of Ottawa's emergency departments are busy dealing with overdoses — with 108 in April alone.

Emergency rooms dealt with 108 overdoses in April alone, new figures show

Ottawa Public Health has released new data about overdose cases at Ottawa hospital emergency departments. (Danny Globerman/CBC News)

Doctors who work in the Queensway-Carleton Hospital's emergency room say they're continuing to see patients coming in with serious drug overdoses that need immediate intervention and resuscitation.

According to new numbers released Thursday by Ottawa Public Health, all of Ottawa's emergency departments are busy dealing with overdoses — with 108 reported in April alone.

Public health officials are now releasing overdose statistics as part of a new public awareness initiative.

Dr. Elizabeth Shouldice, who has worked in Queensway-Carleton's emergency department for the past eight years, said what's most exceptional these days is the severity of opioid overdoses.
Dr. Elizabeth Shouldice said she is seeing an increase in the number of people coming to the ER looking for help with addiction. (CBC)

"[We need] lots and lots of hands on deck to get these people's lives saved," said Shouldice. "The thing that we're finding now is we're getting more people coming looking for help with addiction to the emergency department."

In late April, the public health department decided to issue an alert after seeing a sudden spike in overdoses over three days.

"We sort of knew what to expect — that there was something out there on the street," Shouldice said. "And that was really helpful."

Prom and festival season

The reports allow health experts to monitor data "on a weekly basis" to check for sudden increases or decreases in overdose rates, said Andrew Hendriks, a manager at Ottawa Public Health.

"It allows us to do more messaging if needed," said Hendriks, who chairs the city's overdose prevention and response task force.

Andrew Hendriks is a manager at Ottawa Public Health. (CBC)
Now that it's prom and festival season, Hendriks said the department is making sure naloxone kits are available and that school boards, festival organizers and volunteers know what to watch for in the crowds.

Meanwhile, a grassroots parents group in Ottawa recently set up to tackle teen opioid drug abuse has been calling for better real-time reporting of overdose cases — especially among the city's youth.

"If we have more information, we'll be more aware of what's going on," said Sean O'Leary, executive director of We the Parents. "Good communication between parties will go a long way."

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is with CBC Ottawa. She’s a critical thinker who has produced hundreds of original pieces of impact journalism. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca