Health Minister Terry Lake has announced a $5 million boost in funding for B.C. Emergency Health Services to respond to the opioid overdose crisis.
Lake says B.C. had the highest number of overdose-related 911 calls ever recorded over the past week with a particularly big spike in Greater Vancouver, where paramedics responded to 494 suspected overdose or poisoning events.
“Our paramedics are feeling tremendous pressure as they respond to this public health emergency on the front-lines. We know they have saved thousands of lives in this crisis, and today we are making sure they are supported in this daunting task with needed resources,” said Lake.
Lake says Emergency Health Services will begin implementing a number of strategies to boost ambulance resources, including:
* Placing stationary ‘medical support units’ in some high overdose
locations including the downtown eastside of Vancouver and a high
overdose area of Surrey. These special units will act as a resupply
station for paramedics, as well as provide care information and triage
to those using drugs. It’s anticipated this community-level work will
be done in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control and other
partners involved in the province’s Joint Task Force on Overdose
*More flexible modes of transportation. Paramedics will be using
bicycles and ATVs in high overdose areas to respond to medical
emergencies more rapidly. Bikes and ATVs are often used by teams of
paramedics in areas that are difficult to navigate through in an
* More supervisory support to assist paramedics and dispatchers with
triaging and more efficient patient handover at busy hospital
emergencies, so ambulances can get back on the road more quickly to
respond to other calls.
* Expanding the Vancouver Dispatch Centre’s ability to monitor and
triage complex cases to further support paramedics.
Vancouver Coastal Health is concerned that more people may also die from carfentanil, a drug that’s 100 times more powerful than the painkiller fentanyl, which has been responsible for most of the 622 illicit-drug deaths in B.C. between January and October.
More is needed
In response to the Health Minister’s five million dollar funding boost, the President of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C says added resources to combat the overdose crisis is a step in the right direction but it’s still short of what’s needed.
Bronwyn Barter says 25 ambulances are needed across the lower mainland.
“The issue we’re having is getting the paramedics to the hospital. I hope a lot of this money, I don’t actually know how the employers will use the money, but I hope it goes to us for transporting as well.”
She says the specific resources allocated doesn’t help the issue of four hour wait times in Surrey and Pitt Meadows.
Latest numbers show 662 people have died in the province so far from overdoses.
BC’s Emergency Health Service says some of that cash will go to new vehicles for paramedics but not necessarily ambulances.
Executive Vice President Linda Lupini says they’re looking several options, including ATVs and bikes, which can more easily navigate crowded areas like the Downtown East Side.
“We’re trying to look at vehicles we could get very quickly, for example, SUVs that we could lease where you could have a lone responder with enough equipment. Most of these calls are to get to the scene as quickly as possible and administer naloxone to resuscitate the patient.”
Lupini says the service does have a request to the province for eight new ambulances as well.
She says the money will also go to boosting paramedic roles – in many cases adding hours for staff currently on call.
Overdose crisis on the Island
The death toll from B.C.’s overdose crisis continues to grow, with Island Health revealing seven fatal overdoses on Vancouver Island in the past week.
Island Health says it’s now warning people not to use alone, adding a list of what it calls strategies to reduce the risk – such as “fix with a friend,” “try a small amount first,” and recommending users keep Naloxone nearby.
The warning doesn’t actually mention Fentanyl once but does say “the drugs on the street are more potent and dangerous than they have ever been before.”
Of the seven deaths on Vancouver Island this week, four happened in the last 72 hours.
With files from Emily Lazatin and Jeremy Lye