There were 164 more overdose calls in Greater Victoria in 2020 than in 2019. (Black Press Media file photo)

Greater Victoria sees increase in overdose calls in 2020

Official says most deaths are in the suburbs, in garages and bedrooms

Overdose calls were up across the province in 2020, and Greater Victoria was no exception.

In total, paramedics in the region received 2,209 calls from someone suffering a potential overdose, an increase of 164 calls – or, eight per cent – over 2019. Province-wide, paramedics saw a 12 per cent increase with a record-breaking 27,067 calls.

“We’re seeing a systemic increase across the province and the only common denominator is the ongoing pandemic,” said Brad Cameron, BC Emergency Health Services district manager for Greater Victoria. Increased isolation means more people are using alone, and border restrictions have led to a more toxic drug supply.

RELATED: Pandemic aggravates opioid crisis as overdoses rise and services fall out of reach

“Most overdose deaths in Greater Victoria don’t happen in the core,” Cameron said. “Most deaths are in the suburbs, in garages and bedrooms.” People who use regularly are usually with friends, he noted, and have someone to call 911 if things go wrong.

And the numbers reflect that, with the majority of regular users and calls in the region coming from Victoria. In 2020, there were 1,569 overdose calls in Victoria, an increase of 157 over 2019. Saanich had the second highest number with 265 calls, up four from 2019. It was followed by Langford with 123, Esquimalt with 71, Colwood with 43, Sooke with 37, Central Saanich with 34, View Royal with 28 and Oak Bay with 18. North Saanich saw the biggest year over year increase with a 75 per cent jump from 12 calls in 2019 to 21 in 2020.

Cameron said the demographic of people overdosing hasn’t changed, there’s simply been an increase in use. “There’s a lot more anxiety out there. People are concerned about their jobs, how long this will last, the efficacy of the inoculations. Some people get their relief from drugs,” he said.

RELATED: Victoria advocates call for decriminalization of illicit drugs amid record number of overdoses

Increased drug toxicity has also heightened the complexity of calls. Overdoses in 2020 often required multiple doses of Naloxone, with the patient experiencing breathing and neurological complications.

Across the province, every single health region saw an increase in calls, except for one notable anomaly in the Vancouver Coastal region. There, in the Downtown Eastside, overdose calls decreased a dramatic 14 per cent from 5,335 in 2019 to 4,574 in 2020. Key lessons can be learned from this, Cameron said.

He attributes the decrease to three factors: easy accessibility to Naloxone; a significant de-stigmatization of people who use opioids to deal with life’s complexities; and the number of drug testing sites available.

If Greater Victoria applies the same techniques, Cameron said, it’s possible we too will see a decrease.

RELATED: B.C. paramedics respond to largest number of overdoses in a single day


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