Thunder Bay

'Thunder Bay has a drug problem': paramedics see increasing opioid overdose calls

The head of the professional paramedics association in Thunder Bay, Ont., says the number of calls they get for opioid overdoses continues to rise.

Paramedics in Thunder Bay called 51 times in June, July for overdoses

Naloxone is administered to patients who have overdosed on opioids, like fentanyl. (Nolan Raynak)

The head of the paramedics association in Thunder Bay, Ont., says the number of calls they get for opioid overdoses continues to rise.

"Thunder Bay has a drug problem ... that's not a secret, it's out there," Ryan Ross, the president of the Superior North Association of Professional Paramedics, told CBC News.

Paramedics were called 25 times in June and 26 times in July for overdoses and to administer naloxone — which is sold under the brand name, Narcan — Ross said, adding that those figures mark "an uptick" in those types of calls.

While the numbers are worrisome enough on their own, Ross said they also don't tell the whole story.

"There are a lot of people overdosing and their friends, their family members ... are catching it early and then administering [naloxone]," he said.

"Sometimes, we're not even being called."
Paramedics are being called to more overdoses in Thunder Bay. The head of the Superior North Association of Professional Paramedics says they were called 26 times in July, 2018, alone. (

Data from Superior North EMS, collected as part of opioid tracking efforts by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, shows suspected overdose calls spiked at the beginning of 2018. That's when public health officials first warned that carfentanil had been detected in the city.

A couple of months later, Ross and the paramedics association warned that dangerous opioids were likely showing up in other recreational drugs like cocaine.

Ross now says that, not only is the frequency with which they are being called for overdoses on the rise, but the severity of the calls is as well.

"So, the strength of the drugs [is increasing] with the prevalence of carfentanyl on the street," he said, which requires "more Narcan to be given as opposed to maybe not as much prior."

Without the naloxone treatments, Ross said, generally, a patient's breathing becomes too shallow or stops, they go into cardiac arrest and die.

'All walks of life'

The issue of opioid addiction and the associated health dangers spread across all parts of society, Ross said.

"There's a stigma around opioid use that it's only at-risk individuals or [people on] lower income," he said. "It's not the case at all; it's ... all across all walks of life, all ages."

"It seems to be everybody can fall victim to opioid addiction."

Ross said, what he'd like to see, are redoubled efforts to address underlying mental health issues associated with addiction.

"People need to realize this is a public health issue, it's not one demographic of individuals, it's everyone," he said. "Until everybody gets together and we come up with some sort of strategy ... it's never going to go away."