Surge in overdose calls prompt $5 million injection for paramedic response

Record number of drug-related overdose calls to 911 in past week in B.C.

First responders treat an overdose victim in Surrey.

A record number of overdose-related calls has prompted B.C.’s health ministry to provide an extra $5 million to help increase the response by paramedics.

B.C. had the highest-ever number of overdose-related 911 calls in the past week, with 494 suspected overdoses or poisonings in Greater Vancouver from Nov. 17-23. That included 271 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and 81 in Surrey.

“Our paramedics are feeling tremendous pressure as they respond to this public health emergency on the front lines,” said Health Minister Terry Lake.

B.C. Emergency Health Services will set up stationary medical support units in high overdose locations – including the Downtown Eastside and a high-overdose area of Surrey.

The special units will act as a resupply station for paramedics, and provide information and triage to drug users.

Paramedics will also use bikes or ATVs to more quickly reach victims in high-overdose areas that can be hard to navigate by ambulance.

Money will also help fund provide more support to assist paramedics and dispatchers with triaging and more efficient handover of patients at busy hospitals.

The extra money for paramedic support is the latest in a series of steps by the B.C. government to address the overdose death crisis declared by public health officials last spring.