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Number of overdose calls in Okanagan rose sharply in 2020

Click to play video 'Penticton overdose calls skyrocket' Penticton overdose calls skyrocket
BC Emergency Health Services is releasing some alarming call volume rates for non-fatal overdoses amid the pandemic. The final tally for 911 calls from someone suffering a potential overdose was more than 27,000 province-wide, up 12 per cent over 2019. Penticton appears to be the hardest hit community in the Okanagan, and as Shelby Thom reports, advocates say there is a desperate need for more treatment and rehabilitation beds. – Jan 21, 2021

Overdose calls in B.C., including the Okanagan, have risen sharply.

In fact,  B.C. paramedics responded to more calls in 2020 than ever before.

“It’s hard for every paramedic who goes to those scenes,” said Penticton paramedic unit chief Pat Hussey.

Read more: Edmonton man sentenced to 6 years for selling fentanyl that caused fatal overdose

Paramedics in Penticton responded to a record 474 overdose calls last year. That’s up 87 per cent over 2019.

Overall in B.C., the final tally for 911 calls from someone suffering a potential overdose was 27,067, which is up 12 per cent over 2019.

Click to play video 'Illicit drug deaths in B.C., Okanagan on the rise: officials' Illicit drug deaths in B.C., Okanagan on the rise: officials
Illicit drug deaths in B.C., Okanagan on the rise: officials – Aug 25, 2020

According to B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), the calls spiked in July  — the highest number of overdose calls ever recorded in a single month since the overdose crisis was declared in 2016.

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Hussey said not only are there more calls, but they are more complex.

He said with the current drug toxicity, overdoses require multiple doses of Naloxone and that the patient often has breathing and neurological complications.

Read more: Four-month delay in prescribing safe drug supply costing lives, says B.C. advocate

According to BCEHS, all but one health region across the province saw an increase in overdose calls.

The Vancouver Coastal region saw a slight decrease in calls by four per cent. But one area within Vancouver that saw a 14 per cent decrease in calls was the Downtown Eastside (DTES).

The DTES community has been averaging more than 5,000 overdose calls a year.

But in 2020 that number dropped to 4,574, from 5,335. That’s 761 fewer overdose calls than in 2019.

Click to play video 'Montreal Public Health officials sound the alarm over increasing number of fentanyl overdoses' Montreal Public Health officials sound the alarm over increasing number of fentanyl overdoses
Montreal Public Health officials sound the alarm over increasing number of fentanyl overdoses – Oct 5, 2020

The Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Valley regions continue to have the highest number of overdose calls, though they include more than 50 per cent of the province’s population.

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While Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria remained at the top for the number of overdose calls, several other communities in B.C., including the Okanagan and Similkameen, experienced a dramatic increase in calls.

They include:

  • Fort Nelson: 20 calls, up 233 per cent
  • Keremeos: 16 calls, up 167 per cent
  • Sechelt: 87 calls, up 112 per cent
  • Terrace: 208 calls, up 112 per cent
  • Houston: 22 calls, up 100 per cent
  • Lake Country, 47 calls, up 95 per cent
  • Penticton, 474 calls, up 87 per cent

Kelowna saw a 34 per cent increase in calls in 2020 over 2019 while Vernon recorded a 28 per cent jump.

While the B.C. Coroners Service has yet to release the number of overdose-related deaths for 2020, its last report stated that there were 153 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in November 2020.

That is an 89 per cent increase over the number of deaths seen in November 2019 (81).

Click here for a full list of community overdose call volumes and click here to see overdose numbers across the province and historically.

Click to play video 'Overdoses in Kelowna reach new records due to ‘toxic supply’' Overdoses in Kelowna reach new records due to ‘toxic supply’
Overdoses in Kelowna reach new records due to ‘toxic supply’ – Jul 31, 2020

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