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Overdose calls spiked 25% in B.C. in 2023 amid highest recorded deaths in history

B.C. paramedics responded to 42,172 overdose or poisoning calls last year
A B.C. Centre for Disease Control naloxone kit. B.C. Emergency Health Services released a list detailing the annual number of overdose/poisoning calls in different communities throughout the province, for a total of 42,172 calls in 2023. (Darryl Dick/The Canadian Press)

In the same year that B.C. reported the most ever lives lost to the toxic drug crisis, paramedics in the province reported a 25 per cent increase in overdose call volumes from the year prior.

B.C. Emergency Health Services released a list detailing the annual number of drug-related poisoning calls in different communities throughout the province, dating back to 2016 – when B.C. first declared the opioid crisis.

In total, BCEHS said there were 42,172 calls provincewide in 2023, up from 33,654 in 2022. When the crisis was first declared in 2016, there were 19,275 calls.

Outgoing B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe shared the province’s 2023 data on fatal overdoses Wednesday (Jan. 24), confirming it was the most-ever toxic drug poisonings in a calendar year. There were 2,511 deaths.

“No part of our province is exempt from this crisis,” Lapointe said, adding that the widespread nature of the crisis is demonstrated by the diversity of local health areas with the highest rate of death. The highest was Vancouver Centre North, which includes the Downtown Eastside.

Similar to the communities reporting the most deaths, Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria had the most calls for overdoses or poisonings. Vancouver had 10,526 calls and 644 deaths, while Surrey followed with 3,131 calls and 231 deaths. Victoria saw 2,262 calls and 168 deaths; Nanaimo wasn’t far behind with 2,136 calls and 112 deaths.

In 2017, the federal government passed the Good Samaritan Overdose Act. Under this legislation, those who call 911 or seek medical help due to an overdose will cannot be charged with posession or using drugs under the Criminal Code. The act protects the person who seeks help, whether they stay or leave from the overdose scene before help arrives, as well as anyone else who is at the scene when help arrives, according to the federal government.

Black Press Media has reached out to B.C. Emergency Health Services for comment.

READ MORE: 2023 was the worst year for fatal toxic drug poisonings in B.C. history

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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