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Overdoses spike after ‘Welfare Wednesday’ on Downtown Eastside

A man injects himself at a bus shelter in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Monday, Dec.19, 2016. The number of overdose deaths related to illicit drugs in British Columbia leapt to 755 by the end of November, a more than 70-per-cent jump over the number of fatalities recorded during the same time period last year.
A man injects himself at a bus shelter in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Monday, Dec.19, 2016. The number of overdose deaths related to illicit drugs in British Columbia leapt to 755 by the end of November, a more than 70-per-cent jump over the number of fatalities recorded during the same time period last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

By 6 a.m. on Thursday, over 660 people had visited Vancouver’s supervised injection site Insite in the last 32 hours. A total of 29 people had overdosed.

Those numbers were counted between 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21 and 6 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 22 – recording the immediate aftermath of so-called “Welfare Wednesday.”

On one Wednesday each month, those on social assistance – many living on the Downtown Eastside – receive their income and disability assistance cheques, ranging between $610 and $1,101.

READ MORE: Vancouver first responders preparing for spike in overdose calls after ‘Welfare Wednesday’

Historically, the number of drug overdoses spike on this date as drug users turn to feed their addictions. According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the number of overdose deaths go up by 40 per cent on weeks when cheques are distributed.

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This season, the fentanyl crisis has taken old statistics to new heights. There’s not technically more drug users, but there are more overdoses.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) says a typical 24-hour period at Insite records about six to seven overdoses among about 700 clients.

That’s just under one overdose per 100 people. That number jumped to between four and five on this week’s Welfare Wednesday when about one person every hour suffered an overdose.

READ MORE: Saanich dog experiences opioid overdose after accidental exposure at Mount Douglas Park

These numbers are just the ones recorded at Insite, the safe injection site on East Hastings Street. Even more overdoses were counted at the Mobile Medical Unit recently implemented by the B.C. government to help address the fentanyl crisis.

VCH says there were 36 clients at the Mobile Medical Unit; 24 who required an overdose response. It puts the overdose total for the 32 hours around Welfare Wednesday at 53.

B.C. Coroners Service did not have any immediate data on the number of deaths.

Information from the City of Vancouver released last week said there were 743 overdoses on the Downtown Eastside alone in November, with 31 deaths recorded across Vancouver. So far in 2016, there have been 159 overdose deaths, compared to only 100 in 2014 and 134 in 2015.

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Across B.C., there have been 755 illicit drug deaths, up 70 per cent from last year.

First responders say their job has never been busier. Paramedic Brian Twaites, who has worked on the Downtown Eastside for 30 years, told Global News last week he has been making 20 calls in a 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.”

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