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Politics

Province not considering changing social assistance cheque distribution for now

Premier John Horgan speaks to reporters on July 30, 2018 in Victoria. .
Premier John Horgan speaks to reporters on July 30, 2018 in Victoria. . Richard Zussman/Global News

The provincial government will not be changing the distribution of social assistance cheques after a record-breaking day of overdoses in Vancouver.

Premier John Horgan said the province is looking at various tools to reduce illicit drug overdoses, but getting rid of so-called “Welfare Wednesday” is not being considered at this time.

“No. We are looking at all the tools at our disposal to try and make sure we are helping people get through this. First order of business is to make sure that we have recovery facilities and the capacities to help people when they ask for help,” Horgan said.

READ MORE: B.C. paramedics called to highest number of overdoses in a single day since April 2017

“Those numbers are unprecedented, but our goal is to make sure we do more in the days ahead.”

On Friday, Emergency Health Services said paramedics responded to 130 calls across the province. The only other time there were that many overdoses in a day was more than a year ago, on April 26, 2017. There were zero fatalities connected to the drug overdoses.

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The spike happened two days after social assistance cheques were handed out, a day known as “Welfare Wednesday.”

READ MORE: April’s ‘Welfare Wednesday’ single worst day for recorded overdose calls in B.C. history

A 2016 study from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control found overdose deaths were 40 per cent higher during the last week of each month, with the largest spikes happening within the two days after cheques were distributed.

“I am grateful of those 130 overdoses we didn’t have any fatalities. That speaks to the professionalism of our first responders and the system that is now in place to protect people from the ravages of opioids,” said Horgan.

“We certainly don’t want to see numbers like that every day. But the good is we have put naloxone kits and other techniques in the hands of first responders to ensure that we are able to bring people back when they are on the brink.”

WATCH HERE: Victoria police chief calls for staggered welfare cheques

Victoria police chief calls for staggered welfare cheques
Victoria police chief calls for staggered welfare cheques

Emergency Health Services said the spike was likely due to a number of factors, including a “high toxicity” in the street drug supply being reported by staff at supervised injection sites.

“Any number over 100 is much too high, but to hit 130 is not something we ever want to see,” said BC Emergency Health Services executive vice-president Linda Lupini.

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Lupini said the highest numbers were in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, with 48 and 46 suspected overdoses respectively.

Seventeen calls were recorded in the Island Health region, followed by 16 in the Interior and three calls in the northern region.

In February, Victoria Police Chief Dal Manak called on the province to consider staggering distribution of the cheques throughout the month because the spike in overdoses taxes services beyond capacity.

–With files from Sean Boynton