Health officials, police dealing with rash of overdoses in Vancouver, Victoria

First responders received 119 calls about overdoses and poisonings on Wednesday, more Thursday

Health officials are warning about an increase in drug overdoses in the Vancouver area, while police in Victoria say overdose calls are exhausting their resources.

First responders received 119 calls about overdoses and poisonings on Wednesday, the third most they’ve ever had in a single day, said Linda Lupini, executive vice-president of B.C. Emergency Health Services.

There were another 105 calls on Thursday, she said.

“There’s something pretty toxic out on the street. And it seems to be pretty widespread,” Lupini said, adding that other areas in the Lower Mainlaind have seen a rise in overdose calls recently.

Insite, a supervised consumption site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, had 25 overdoses on Wednesday, a number they generally see in an entire week, said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Potential reasons for the surge include social assistance cheques being sent out and high concentrations of fentanyl in heroin, he said.

READ MORE: B.C. launches new drug-checking program, expands fentanyl testing

The health authority issued an overdose alert Thursday, urging people to have their drugs checked at supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites before using them.

“It does seem like this week things were a little bit more risky,” Lysyshyn said.

Meanwhile, police in Victoria said patrol officers responded to five overdoses within a nine-hour period between Thursday night and Friday morning, exhausting their supply of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. Officers had to return to headquarters to stock up again before the end of their shift, the department said in a news release.

Police said two of the people who overdosed were taken to hospital and two others declined further treatment.

One person could not be revived and police said the exact cause of death will be determined by the coroner’s service.

More than 1,400 people died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. last year. Lupini said emergency crews responded to more than 23,000 calls about overdoses in 2017.

Responding to a high number of overdose calls over a short time span can be traumatic for first responders, who are often working in uncontrolled setting and don’t have the support that is available in a hospital, said Lupini.

“That takes its toll on your paramedics,” she said.

Take-home naloxone kits have helped lower the number of calls, Lupini added, because friends or family members can immediately respond to an overdose.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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