Paramedic Specialists Brian Twaites and David Hilder of B.C. Ambulance debrief after responding to a drug overdose in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Over the past several years the drug overdoses not only across British Columbia but throughout Canada have but grown. On June, 23, 2021 for instance B.C. Ambulance paramedics responded to 140 overdose calls across the province with 42 of those being just in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Paramedic Specialists Brian Twaites and David Hilder of B.C. Ambulance debrief after responding to a drug overdose in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Over the past several years the drug overdoses not only across British Columbia but throughout Canada have but grown. On June, 23, 2021 for instance B.C. Ambulance paramedics responded to 140 overdose calls across the province with 42 of those being just in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Smithers paramedics responded to 42 overdose calls in 2021

Call volume down from 52 in 2020, but seven deaths recorded between January and August

Paramedics responded to 42 overdose calls in the Smithers Local Health Area (LHA) in 2021 according to new data released yesterday (Jan. 12).

Locally, it was a reduction from 2020 during which BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) responded to 52 incidents.

Overdose death statistics for the entire year are currently not available, but a BC Coroners Service (BCCS) report released in December indicates seven people in the Smithers LHA died between January and August 2021.

That corresponds to a death rate of 59.2 per 100,000 population — a statistic BCCS uses to compare jurisdictions with very different population bases — and is 10 times the 2020 rate of 5.7.

While the Smithers LHA call volume was down last year, provincially and regionally, it was a different story.

Paramedics across B.C. responded to a record 35,525 overdose calls last year, up 31 per cent compared to 2020.

According to BCEHS data, 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.

READ MORE: ‘Lifeguard’ app launches as a made-in-B.C. solution to help prevent overdose deaths

READ MORE: ‘Lifeguard’ app saves overdosing White Rock man’s life, twice

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.

For those same years, Smithers paramedics received 30 (2016), 24 (2017), 41 (2018), 31 (2019) and 52 (2020) calls.

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 the death toll reported in from January to October 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).

READ MORE: B.C. sees deadliest month of illicit drug crisis with 201 fatal overdoses in October


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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B.C. overdosesopioid crisisopioids