Every four weeks on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the number of overdoses spikes. It’s related to what is commonly referred to as “Welfare Wednesday” – the day those on income assistance receive their cheques.
With the opioid crisis continuing to break record numbers, this week’s upcoming Wednesday has first responders worried.
“Addiction is a horrible, sad thing to see,” said paramedic Brian Twaites, who has worked on the Downtown Eastside for 30 years.
He said he’s never seen it this bad in three decades.
First responders are expecting this week to be busier than the new normal – recent months have shown an increase in the number of overdoses, with November peaking so far this year at 735 calls.
There have been over 6,000 overdoses this year to date.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t describe how busy it is,” Twaites said.
“We’re ramping it up because we just don’t know how busy it’s going to be.”
Twaites said last week he made 20 calls in one 12-hour shift.
“It’s not uncommon to be walking into a room and your boots are crushing syringes on the floor. There are syringes everywhere, so you really have to be careful.”
With those kinds of hazards, Twaites says he won’t go into a call alone because it’s just not safe.
But resources are tight.
Ahead of “Welfare Wednesday” on Dec. 21, Twaites says more paramedics are being staffed for overnight shifts and extra resources are being called in 24 hours a day.
The date also usually coincides with an increase in other drug-related crimes like robbery and assault, Twaites said, which further increases their call volume.
The crews are so taxed they can hardly find the time to use the bathroom or get something to eat.
But Twaites stresses the chaos is all the time now, not just at welfare time.
Insite will be staying open for 24 hours for the day before “Welfare Wednesday” and three days after.
For many, the best Christmas gift this year will just be staying alive.