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A closer look at paramedic response to overdose calls across the province

Paramedics 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 calls each day for a potential overdose.
Paramedic Christina Zaganas is on the frontlines of the overdose crisis
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Paramedic Christina Zaganas is on the frontlines of the overdose crisis, responding to overdose calls from her ambulance station on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has been monitoring the overdose crisis since it began in 2016 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. 

The experience of BCEHS mirrors other provincial health agencies, including the BC Coroner Service, which reported a spike in illicit drug deaths in 2016, and an increasing trend of illicit drug deaths where fentanyl was detected. 

Christa Zaganas is a paramedic at Ambulance Station 248 in the middle of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Zaganas regularly responds to overdoses. “I can tell you there is no typical overdose patient. This crisis is affecting people from all walks of life.” 

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 reveals very 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)
In 2019, Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria remained the top three communities in terms of overdose calls. Both Surrey and Victoria had slightly lower overdose call numbers in 2019, compared to 2018; Vancouver was slightly up, by eight per cent.

Here is a closer look at the top communities for overdose calls for 2019:

  1. Vancouver 8,589
  2. Surrey 2,151
  3. Victoria 1,412
  4. Abbotsford 943
  5. Kelowna 869
  6. Prince George 626
  7. Kamloops 613
  8. Nanaimo 561
  9. Chilliwack 560
  10. Burnaby 521

SOURCE: A closer look at paramedic response to overdose calls across the province ( )
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