Amid rash of drug overdoses, Regina paramedic urges users to call 911

A paramedic in Regina is urging drug users in danger from an overdose to put their concerns about police aside, and get the urgent medical attention they need.

Police say they have been informed about 43 drug overdose cases so far this year

Darren Tanzell, an advanced care paramedic, speaks with reporters after at least 20 drug overdoses over a span of a few days earlier this month. (CBC)

Amid reports that there have been dozens of drug overdoses in Regina so far this year, a paramedic is urging drug users to put their concerns about police aside and get the urgent medical attention they need.

What we're worried about is the person.- Darren Tanzell

The plea from Darren Tanzell, an advanced care paramedic, comes after at least 20 drug overdoses in one blur of a weekend earlier this month.

On Friday afternoon, Regina police provided a further update, saying there have been at least 43 overdoses in the city since Jan. 1. In 11 of those cases, police officers administered life-saving naloxone to counteract the effects.

"It's important that people do call for medical help," Tanzell said.

"They shouldn't worry about … any legal repercussions. That's not something that's going to ever affect them. What we're worried about is the person … that's having the medical crisis."

Far too common

The spree of drug overdoses came as a shock to the community. The number of drug emergencies in such a condensed period of time was a challenge for police and care providers.

But it's not as surprising for people like Tanzell, who see the dire impacts of powerful opioids like fentanyl, or stimulants like methamphetamine, on a regular basis. 

"Drug overdoses are becoming more common and that's making it more difficult for us," he said.

"Going to a drug overdose is never easy. Often … people are unconscious and there are panicky family members, panicky bystanders. So it's always a stressful call."

It's why Tanzell is speaking out, urging people to learn more and to help take some of the panic out of the situation to make sure the people suffering from an overdose have a better chance of getting through it, and on the road to recovery.

Self care 

Tanzell is also asking drug users to be wary. He again urged anyone feeling the symptoms of a drug overdose to quickly call for help. He also suggested the drugs themselves seem to be changing and becoming more dangerous.

"When I started you might see some morphine overdoses occasionally, but the drugs even 20 years ago were much different than they are now," said Tanzell.

The arrival of opioids and meth has created a much more dangerous situation for the users and for the people who have to help out when someone has overdosed. Tanzell said users should understand that sometimes they think they are getting one drug "and they actually get a mixture of two."

In the most recent spree of overdoses in Regina, police blamed fentanyl and called it a "bad batch," going so far as to put out a very public appeal for help in getting the drugs off the streets.

Police say they have been called to 26 of the 43 overdoses cases. Of the more recent ones, there have been no fatalities,

According to Les Parker, a spokesperson for the Regina Police Service, emergency medical services notified police about 43 overdoses, but the actual number could be as much as three times higher, because some users do not call 911.

The drug naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of opioids. Naloxone can be purchased at many Saskatchewan pharmacies.

Naloxone kits like the one shown above are also available for free at some community support groups like AIDS Saskatoon. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)