B.C.’s fight against the opioid overdose crisis continues with paramedics across the province attending more drug-related calls than ever before.
Over the last week, B.C. had the highest number of overdose-related 911 calls ever recorded.
Between Nov. 17 and 23, B.C. paramedics responded to 494 suspected overdose and poisoning calls in Greater Vancouver, including 271 in the Downtown Eastside and 81 in Surrey.
By comparison, in the entire 2015, there were 474 illicit drug overdoses in B.C., which was a 30 per cent increase from 2014.
The B.C. government has now announced they are going to provide $5 million in funding to paramedics and dispatchers to help them fight the crisis.
“Our paramedics are feeling tremendous pressure as they respond to this public health emergency on the frontlines,” said Health Minister Terry Lake in a release. “We know they have saved thousands of lives in this crisis, and today we are making sure they are supported in this daunting task with needed resources. We are working with many others including harm reduction and addictions experts, police, the coroner and the federal government to find solutions, but in the meantime, we must make sure patients get the care they need.”
This money will allow BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) to boost ambulance resources and staffing including:
- Placing stationary ‘medical support units’ in some high overdose locations including the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and a high overdose area of Surrey. These units will contain supplies and will act as an information hub for those taking drugs. Paramedics will work with staff from the BC Centre for Disease Control and other partners involved in the province’s Joint Task Force on Overdose Response.
- Paramedics will also be getting out of ambulances and onto bicycles and ATVs for them to access high overdose areas easier.
- There will be more staff at the Vancouver Dispatch Centre to further support paramedics on the ground.
“We know this crisis has affected many families and communities and that it is also of great concern to paramedics and dispatchers,” said BCEHS executive vice president Linda Lupini in a release. “This funding will allow BCEHS to make sure we can respond to the unprecedented number of overdose patients adequately.”
In April, B.C. declared a public health emergency following a significant increase in drug overdoses.
The province was the first in Canada to take this kind of action in response to a public health crisis from drug overdoses.
Fentanyl overdoses have been steadily increasing in B.C. over the past five years. According the Provincial Health Office, the increase in drug overdose deaths in which fentanyl was present went from five per cent in 2012 to approximately 31 per cent in 2015.
Fentanyl is an opiod-based pain killer that is about 100 times more potent than morphine.