Paramedics in the Okanagan were busy in 2020, responding to a staggering increase in overdose calls as the pandemic exacerbated the ongoing overdose crisis across the province.
Several communities were hit hard, with the highest calls in at least five years, according to new statistics released Wednesday.
Overall in B.C., overdose calls were up 12 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. That amounted to 27,067 calls made to 911 for someone suffering a potential overdose.
Paramedics on the front lines felt the burden of the increase.
“It’s hard for every paramedic who goes to those scenes,” said Pat Hussey, Penticton paramedic unit chief.
Not only are there more calls than ever before, but they are also more complex, referencing the medical complexity of overdose patients, he said.
Paramedics are typically required to use multiple doses of the overdose-reversing antidote, naloxone, due to an increase in illicit drug toxicity.
From 2004 to 2015, overdose calls fluctuated from 10,000 t0 15,000 a year. This changed in 2016 when BC Emergency Health Services recorded 19,275 calls. Although this has steadily increased since, 2020 marked the highest number of overdoses calls ever recorded.
Each community by the numbers:
Every major community in the Interior Health region increased last year in calls for potential overdoses.
The highest recorded increase was in Keremeos, which recorded a whopping 167 per cent increase, from six calls in 2019 to 16 calls in 2020. This put the small South Okanagan town at second highest increase rate in the province, second only to Fort Nelson. Sechelt, Terrace and Houston also saw increases of over 100 per cent.
The community of Penticton recorded 474 overdose calls in 2020, up 87 per cent from the year prior, when there were 253 calls.
Lake Country saw a 48 per cent increase, from 24 calls in 2019 to 47 in 2020.
Kelowna saw a 34 per cent increase, from 869 calls in 2019 to 1,168 last year.
There was a 28 per cent increase in calls for service in Vernon, which recorded 316 calls in 2020. This is up from 247 in 2019.
Summerland recorded 21 calls last year, up 24 per cent from 17 calls in 2019.
Similarly, Salmon Arm saw a 20 per cent increase from 50 calls in 2019 to 60 in 2020.
Revelstoke recorded a 19 per cent increase, up three calls from 16 in 2019.
West Kelowna recorded 216 calls for potential overdoses last year, up 14 per cent from the 189 calls in 2019.
The only health region in the province to decrease in calls for potential overdoses was the Vancouver Coastal region, which saw a slight decrease in calls by four per cent.
Paramedics in the Downtown Eastside said COVID-19 has had an impact on overdoses there. One thing that remains consistent, they explained, is an increase in overdoses when welfare cheques are released.
For the last few years that community has averaged more than 5,000 overdose calls a year. Last year, however, that number dropped to 4,574 – that’s 761 fewer overdose calls than in 2019.
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