The City of Victoria may have had the third-most calls for overdoses in the province in 2021, but as a ratio of its size, the concentration of calls in the city made it far busier than both Vancouver and Surrey.
Figures recently released by BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) suggest the south Island opioid crisis is just as intense as that of the Lower Mainland for emergency responders.
BCEHS figures show paramedics responded to 1,952 overdose calls in the City of Victoria alone last year, ranking it behind Vancouver (9,993) and Surrey (3,674). The B.C. capital’s total represents an increase of 24.4 per cent over 2020 and is 69.8 per cent higher than in 2016, the first year B.C. declared a public health emergency due to the number of opioid-related deaths.
Based on the latest population estimates from BC Statistics (2020), Victoria had a ratio of 2,067 calls per 100,000 residents, a higher rate than both Vancouver (1,433) and Surrey (613).
Only Penticton came close to matching Victoria’s rate of calls among similarly sized or larger B.C. jurisdictions. The Okanagan city had 748 overdose-related calls in 2021 – a 58 per cent jump over the previous year – which translates to 2,043 calls/100K. On the Island, Courtenay (1,618/100K), Campbell River (1,131/100K) and Nanaimo (879/100K) were the highest outside Victoria.
Paramedics, along with firefighters, police and other outreach staff, have been on the front lines of the opioid crisis in Greater Victoria and across the province.
BCEHS crews responded to a record 35,525 overdose calls across British Columbia in 2021, up 31 per cent from 2020 and more than 84 per cent higher than 2016.
The number of deaths related to illicit drug toxicity is also setting grim new records – the January to October 2021 mark of 1,782 was already higher than 2020’s record total of 1,765. The disparity between the total call numbers and the fatalities illustrates the impact emergency responders have had on the crisis.
“BCEHS paramedics and medical emergency call takers have saved the lives of many overdose patients,” the association stated in a release. “We’re very proud of the professionalism and dedication to patient care our frontline staff have shown throughout this crisis.”
Paramedics and other responders have said in past there is no typical overdose patient. “This crisis is affecting people from all walks of life, throughout the province,” the release continued. Contrary to notions that most overdoses in Victoria happen in alleyways, stairwells or other public places, 80.5 per cent of all overdose deaths in B.C. occurred in a private residence or social or supported housing.
With overdose calls attended to around the Capital Region, the per 100K numbers excluding Victoria, ranged from a low of 148 in Oak Bay to a high of 411 in Sooke. While the two municipalities’ total call numbers were significantly lower than their larger CRD counterparts, they recorded among the highest percentage increases over 2020. Sooke jumped from 37 calls to 62 – an increase of 67.5 per cent – while Oak Bay went from 18 to 28 (55.5 per cent).
Another local municipality recording a significant jump in volume for overdose calls was View Royal, going from 28 calls in 2020 to 48 last year. Based on population, it had the region’s second-highest call ratio of 405/100K.
In terms of total calls, the CRD’s largest municipality, Saanich, was second highest at 342 (up 29 per cent from 2020), followed by Langford at 155 (up 26 per cent), and Esquimalt with 75. The smallest increases in calls over 2020 were experienced in North Saanich (down 4.7 per cent), Esquimalt (up 5.6 per cent) and Colwood (up 7.0 per cent).
– with files from Don Descoteau
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