Thunder Bay hospital officials say ER visits for suspected opioid overdoses doubling in 2018
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre says hospital prepared for influx of cases
Hospital officials in Thunder Bay, Ont., say the average number of monthly visits to the emergency department by people suspected of overdosing on opioids has almost doubled in 2018.
Additionally, the majority of those patients are serious cases, with about half being admitted to intensive care.
"They are critically ill," Lisa Beck, the hospital's emergency department program director for critical care and trauma, told CBC News of the state many people are in when they arrive at the health sciences centre after an overdose.
Paramedics in the northwestern Ontario city have also noticed a marked increase in calls in 2018, with 25 suspected overdoses noted in June and 26 in July, alone. Beck said that the emergency department has seen, on average, about 15 suspected overdose cases per month in 2018.
The Superior North Association of Professional Paramedics has also said that, in general, the amount of naloxone — an opioid antidote — they have to administer during each call has also increased due to the severity of the overdoses paramedics encounter.
Public health officials warned in January that carfentanil, an opioid more powerful than fentanyl, was first found in Thunder Bay after confirmation by a laboratory report.
The emergency department has been preparing for the increase for some time, Beck said.
"We've been following trends and looking at protocols being used and preparing the emergency department in several different ways," she said, adding that includes staff education, having different supplies available, such as naloxone, and appropriate protocols in place.
"This is a national concern, it's been growing over the past year," said Tyler Van Ramshorst, the interim manager of the health sciences centre's emergency department.
"We've had some time to prepare and make sure that we're ready for any situations that might arise."
Despite the near-doubling of the number of monthly overdose cases they see, hospital officials said they haven't yet had to assign additional staff to deal with the situation.
"We've been able to handle it on top of our workload already," Van Ramshorst said. "We're seeing positive outcomes for these people and we're able to provide the care that we need to."
The prevalence of naloxone in the community has also helped, he said. According to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, it distributed over 550 naloxone kits in 2017, up from just over 30 kits per year from 2014 to 2016.