B.C. paramedics responded to 131 overdoses Friday, ‘the most recorded in a single day’

Paramedics in B.C. responded to 131 overdose calls Friday, “the most recorded in a single day.”

B.C. Emergency Health Services tweeted the alarming number Monday afternoon.

“Overdoses were across B.C., from Chilliwack to Cowichan,” the agency said in its tweet. “When paramedics respond to an overdose a patient has a 99 per cent chance of survival.”

It said 131 overdoses is double the daily average. 

Spokesperson Shannon Miller said in an email the number is the highest “since the overdose crisis began and BCEHS began closely monitoring overdose calls.”

Miller said the coroner’s service, not emergency health, is in charge of reporting deaths as a result of overdoses but she was not aware of any deaths from Friday’s calls.

She reiterated the vast number of overdose patients attended to by paramedics — over 99 per cent — survive.

B.C. is in the middle of two concurrent public health emergencies: COVID-19 and the overdose crisis.

As of Monday morning, 174 people in B.C. have died of COVID-19, while 554 have died of illicit drug overdoses as of May 31.

The B.C. Coroners Service said that in May alone, 170 British Columbians died of an illicit drug overdose. That was the highest total ever recorded for a single month in the province’s history.

‘The drug seems to be stronger’

Miller said Friday’s number broke the previous record of 130 calls set in April 2017 and matched in July 2018.

“We’ve had nothing close to this at all for the last couple of years,” Miller said. “[Friday] was exceptionally high.”

Miller said she was unable to say why there was a spike Friday but noted last week was a social assistance cheque week.

Brian Twaites in a 2019 photo. Twaites said in recent months, overdoses have been getting ‘more intense.’ (Jake Costello/CBC)

Brian Twaites, a paramedic specialist with B.C. Ambulance Service, has been attending overdose calls for years in-person and also provides clinical support to paramedics across the province from a Vancouver dispatch centre.

He said in recent months, overdoses have been getting “more intense” and require a higher dosage of naloxone — used to reverse opioid overdoses — than before.

“The drug seems to be stronger, so the resuscitation of the overdose patient is taking a little bit longer,” Twaites said.

“That entire time they’re not breathing.”

When patients aren’t breathing, he said, that means a greater risk of brain damage.

“Every minute without oxygen to the brain is devastating.”

Twaites said the numbers released Monday show the importance of not using illicit drugs alone.

He said anyone who believes they are witnessing an overdose should call 911 immediately.

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