A student learning to be a health care aide put her training to the test during an emergency in downtown Edmonton on July 1.
“I was in line at a store on Jasper Avenue, trying to get some soft drinks,” Danica Porrier said. “It was 40 degrees that day.
“I was at the front of the line. A gentleman came running in, kind of slurring. I didn’t really understand what he said but he needed water for his friend.
“I paid right away, went out to my vehicle. I looked around the corner and [saw that] he was pouring water on his friend.”
Porrier had water and an umbrella to shield them from the sun in her car so she ran to help. The man was unresponsive, sprawled on the ground, laying over his large back pack, she recalled.
“At first (the friend) mentioned it was just alcohol, but once he started realizing the severity of the problem, he told me there were narcotics involved.
“We tried waking him up and he wasn’t responding.”
Porrier called 911 and the operator walked her through a checklist: Was he breathing? Could she lay him flat on his back?
Porrier said her NorQuest College health aide training and recent safety courses gave her the confidence to act.
“As soon as I called 911 and she said: ‘You’ve got to start CPR,’ I thought, ‘Oh wow, I just took that.'”
She performed CPR — with the 911 operator walking her through every step — until EMS and fire crews arrived.
“Right away they took over. It was amazing to see the teamwork they did because that’s part of what we’re learning in my health care aide program,” Porrier said.
“It was really interesting to watch how they worked together.”
She said EMS lifted the man onto a stretcher and took him away in an ambulance. Porrier doesn’t know what happened to him.
Still, she’s glad she was there and that she was able to jump in.
“I didn’t know how I’d react with what they taught me but it’s good to know I stepped up.”
Alberta Health Services said Friday that Edmonton is seeing a high number of opioid-related EMS calls.
Between July 12 and July 18, there were 139 opioid-related EMS calls in Edmonton.
According to Boyle Street Community Services, overdose deaths nearly doubled in Edmonton in 2020, rising to 485 in 2020 from 267 in 2019. Data indicates they’re rising again this year.
“The number of opioid related incidents — overdoses and/or drug poisonings — has risen significantly in the last couple of months,” said Trisha Smith, executive director of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre. “We’re seeing quadruple the numbers in June compared to any of the previous 16, 18 months, in a single month.
“The numbers are just astronomical.”
Smith believes this rise is happening across the province.
“This doesn’t just happen in Edmonton’s inner city. It happens across the entire city … This happens in people’s homes when they’re using alone.”
She says the increasing demand is putting huge pressures on first responders, the health-care system, social agencies and their staff.
“It’s overwhelming staff … it’s wearing them out.”
Smith says even 911 is being inundated with calls for help.
“There’s so much pressure on the system that sometimes you don’t get through right away.”
“It’s a significant pressure on resources,” she said. “The clients themselves — the individuals who are using drugs — are sometimes having repeated incidents. The systems that are supporting them are also feeling pressure … all the other social agencies.”
Smith is encouraged that individuals and companies are taking it upon themselves to learn first aid and how to properly help in other emergency situations.
“I think it’s fantastic that there are community members, community groups and organizations and businesses and individuals that are willing to step into the space, willing to be trained, educated, and figure out how to find the resources — to have Narcan and naloxone available — so that they can respond, respond appropriately and help community members when they need it most and save people’s lives.
“I liken this to taking a CPR course,” Smith said. “I think it’s sad we’re at a point where we have to rely on community to respond because our resources are being stretched but I also think, in true Edmonton fashion, we’re here to support each other and help each other.
“I think it’s fantastic that individuals and businesses are willing to step into this space and help wherever they can.”
Porrier hopes more Edmontonians heed the call to be trained and to help.
“I think you need to care and you need to act,” she said. “If you haven’t had your CPR training in a while, get it updated or upgraded. You can do it. 911 talked me through the whole thing. And I felt really good after.
“We all need to care a bit more for people on the street. You never know where they’re from, what’s happened to them.”
“We should take care of our people,” Porrier said.
The Addiction Helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322. The Mental Health Helpline can be reached at 1-877-303-2642.
In an emergency, AHS says call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
The health agency also shared safety reminders for those who choose to use illegal drugs:
- Avoid using while alone
- Ask someone to check on you or use while on the phone with a trusted person who can call for help in the event of an overdose
- Use supervised consumption services if possible
- Do a test dose to check the potency or strength of the drug
- Know the signs and symptoms of overdose and call 911 for direction and support
- Carry a naloxone kit and know how to use it
- Connect with your local harm-reduction, health and social services agencies
- Reach out to available substance-use treatment, recovery-oriented supports and mental health services