Paramedics across B.C. responded to a record 35,525 overdose calls last year, up 31 per cent compared to 2020.
According to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) data released Wednesday (Jan. 12), calls have been steadily rising over the years. The 35,525 overdose calls received in 2021 work out to about 97 per day.
The worst month for overdose calls was July, when paramedics responded to 3,606 calls, or 116 per day.
Overdoses can be called in by witnesses or through the Lifeguard app, which allows the drug user to record what substances they are taking, their address and set a timer. If the user doesn’t turn off the timer, it will begin to blare – alerting people nearby – and then call 911 for paramedics or firefighters to respond to the address. Police are not alerted.
Overdose calls have nearly tripled since 2015, when BCEHS received 12,263 calls. In 2016, the agency received 19,275 calls, in 2017 it received 23,441 calls, in 2018 it received 23,662 calls, in 2019 it received 24,166 calls and in 2020 it received 27,067 calls. B.C. declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016.
The province recorded 1,782 overdose deaths due to illicit drugs in the first 10 months of 2021. Data for November and December are not yet available but death toll reported in just the first 10 months of last year already breaks the record set in 2020 by 17 deaths.
Every health authority in the province saw an increase in overdose calls with the highest in Fraser Health. Vancouver Coastal health saw calls increase by 24 per cent to 11,204, Fraser Health saw calls increase by 45 per cent to 10,573, Island Health saw calls increase by 32 per cent to 5,917, Interior Health saw calls increase by 29 per cent to 5,417 and Northern Health saw calls increase by 16 per cent to 2,414.
Urban centres in B.C. send out the most calls for overdose aid. Vancouver had 9,993 calls (23 per cent increase since 2020), Surrey had 3,674 (49 per cent increase), Victoria had 1,952 (24 per cent increase) and Abbotsford had 1,368 (46 per cent increase).