Paramedics in BC continue to be called to an incredibly high number of overdoses across the province.
In 2019 that amounted to 24,166 overdose calls, or an average of 66 overdose calls each day in BC.
Since the provincial health officer declared a health emergency in the spring of 2016, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has been monitoring the overdose crisis by tracking the number of 9-1-1 calls we receive and respond to for a potential overdose.
Between 2004 and 2015, overdose calls in B.C. fluctuated from 10,000 - 15,000 a year. But in 2016, BCEHS saw a dramatic increase in overdose call volumes and by 2017 it amounted to more than 23,000 calls a year.
For the last three years the total number of overdose calls paramedics attend has remained steady – but this steady volume of overdose calls (now, more than 24,000 calls a year) is double what it was before the overdose crisis began.
Overdose calls are tracked across the provincial health authorities and the data shows few communities in B.C. are immune from the overdose crisis. Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health have the highest volume of overdose calls – they also serve 50 per cent of B.C.’s population. Here is a breakdown of 2019 overdose calls by health authority:
- Vancouver Coastal: 9,407 (39% of total calls)
- Fraser Health: 6,478 (27% of total calls)
- Vancouver Island: 3,852 (16% of total calls)
- Interior Health: 3,097 (13% of total calls)
- Northern Health: 1,332 (5% of total calls)
BCEHS has implemented several strategies to boost ambulance resources and staffing during the crisis, including:
- Using more paramedic response units, whereby an advanced care paramedic (highly trained paramedic) is in an SUV and can assist first responders and other paramedics in ambulances
- Adding extra paramedic staff, and providing additional resources to the 9-1-1 dispatch centres
- Placing full-time paramedics, as members of the staff, in Victoria’s overdose prevention site
- Adding paramedic bicycle squads to the Vancouver Downtown Eastside in the summer months, to be able to respond more rapidly to overdose events
BCEHS continues to closely track the overdose situation around the province and will determine on an ongoing basis where added resources are needed. This includes deliberately placing paramedics close to prevention sites to cut down response time and strategically deploy our crews.