Saskatchewan

Record doses of naloxone given by Saskatoon-based EMS service in 2021

2021 was a very busy year for an EMS service provider in Saskatoon. Both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the opioid epidemic have added stress to the work of paramedics in the city, according to Troy Davies, Director of Public Affairs Medavie Health Services West.

Paramedics administered 604 doses of naloxone in 2021, says Medavie Health Services West

Higher call volumes, increased pressures due to COVID-19 as well as mental health and drug abuse calls have added to the stress of being a paramedic, said Troy Davies, director of public affairs for Medavie Health Services West. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

2021 was a very busy year for an EMS service provider in Saskatoon.

Both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the opioid epidemic have added stress to the work of paramedics in the city, according to Troy Davies, Director of Public Affairs Medavie Health Services West.

"It's definitely alarming," said Davies.

"There's no playbook for this that we have that we can just pull from the shelf and say, okay, let's do this."

In 2021 Medavie, formerly MD Ambulance, celebrated 45 years of service in Saskatoon and area.

In 2021, the service provider also dealt with record call volumes, record amounts of naloxone administration, constant changes to PPE requirements, mental health calls as well as supply change problems due to the pandemic, according to a press release from Medavie.

Last year EMS staff administered 604 doses of naloxone to patients, an increase of 31 per cent from 2020, according to the health-care delivery company.

"They're not robots," said Davies.

"It's on the paramedic to basically bring them back to life. And a lot of those times we don't."

Overdose deaths continue to rise in Saskatchewan

On Dec. 2, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service reported 56 confirmed drug toxicity deaths in Saskatoon for 2021 compared to 105 in Regina.

Overall, the data showed roughly 400 deaths in Saskatchewan that were being investigated in 2021 as related to drug overdoses. Of those, 211 were confirmed fatal overdoses in the province.

"I don't know how much better off we are when we're looking at last year to this year; there are some good indications," said Jason Mercredi, Prairie Harm Reduction's executive director in Saskatoon earlier this month.

"You don't want to celebrate too much because you still have a record number of people dying."

Davies said naloxone kits — also known as Narcan — that are available to the public in and around Saskatoon have been helpful to the service provider. 

"There have been numerous calls that we've arrived on scene where Narcan has already been given," he said.

"That 604 number that we released is probably not even accurate as to how many patients have actually received Narcan in the city."

A record year, says EMS service provider

Overall, 2021 has been a record year for the service provider. EMS responses were up by 15 per cent to a total of 39,836, according to Medavie.

To deal with the rise in call volumes, the company added 24 additional paramedics in 2021 as well as two 24-hour and one 12-hour ambulance to its fleet.

Medavie hired one full-time paramedic for the Saskatoon Tribal Council Health Bus, according to the company. 

"We continue to work with key stakeholders within Saskatoon," said Davies.

"Ultimately it's probably the busiest we've ever seen for our paramedics and the stresses are extremely high due to the fact that we're still stuck in this pandemic and there's really no light at the end of the tunnel as of yet."

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