Overdose calls to Emergency Health Services more than doubled in Greater Trail in 2021.
Paramedics across B.C. responded to a record 35,525 overdose calls last year, up 31 per cent compared to 2020.
In Greater Trail, which includes Fruitvale, Montrose, Trail, Warfield, and Rossland, paramedics responded to 106 calls in 2021 compared to 51 in all of 2020.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in drug overdoses in the area,” said Trail and District RCMP Sgt. Mike Wicentowich, who recently sent out a notification of tainted drugs, after the overdose death of a 42-year-old Trail man, Dec. 7.
“We had three deaths that we suspected were from a toxic drug supply.
“The illicit drug supply in Trail is toxic and has a higher than normal chance of killing users,” Wicentowich warns. “Drug users should avoid illicit drug use or take precautions to prevent their own death like buddying up with a friend and carrying (naloxone) before use.”
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) data released Wednesday (Jan. 12) show significantly higher call outs in Trail compared to the past five years when they reported 40 in 2016, 38 in 2017, 44 in 2018, 41 in 2019, and 51 in 2020.
The RCMP often accompany paramedics, making it doubly hard on local policing resources.
“We often partner with BC Ambulance as a safety measure so they can concentrate on performing their medical duties and we take care of the rest,” Wicentowich told the Trail Times. “These overdoses often occur in risky and hazardous environments in which the RCMP is required.”
The province recorded 1,782 overdose deaths due to illicit drugs in the first 10 months of 2021. Data for November and December are not yet available but the death toll in just the first 10 months breaks the record set in 2020 by 17 deaths.
Interior Health saw calls increase by 29 per cent to 5,417 in 2021, and in Kootenay Boundary, the number of drug toxicity deaths for 2021 was already 23 by the end of October, compared to 21 in all of 2020.
According to Wicentowich, local groups are trying to help. ANKORS is running a temporary drug testing facility in downtown Trail to help combat the harmful effects of the toxic supply.
“We are recommending that users use with a companion for monitoring or test their drugs ahead of time,” said Wicentowich. “Long term, we probably need a facility that provides 24/7 testing.”
The highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths was in Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities (602 and 494 deaths, respectively), making up 62 per cent of all such deaths during this period.
However, Interior Health has the second most deaths at 45 per 100,000 compared to 48 per 100,000 in Vancouver Coastal Health.
Illegal drugs made with fentanyl cause about 85 per cent of the opioid-related harms and deaths.
Nelson is one of the few communities that actually saw a drop in BCEHS call outs from 53 to 47, its lowest number in five years. The city has been proactive in the fight against a toxic drug supply, creating the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force (NFTF) in 2016, ANKORS, and other regional community action teams that find ways to reduce the risk of harm to vulnerable populations due to the overdose crisis.
One way that municipalities have addressed the problem is by providing overdose prevention sites. The sites provide a safe, clean space for people to bring their own drugs to use, and are supervised by trained staff.
They offer a range of evidence-based harm reduction services, such as drug checking, and reduce drug poisoning deaths to almost zero. Depending on the model, overdose prevention sites can also include access to prescription opioid replacement therapy, support/applications to attend drug rehabilitation programs, and on-site medical care.
“The addicts who die are still someone’s family,” said Wicentowich. “Most are surprisingly not criminals in the traditional sense. Some commit no crimes at all. I hope that they get opportunities to get themselves out of this lifestyle and onto something better.”
One study conducted at Insite, Vancouver’s first supervised consumption site, showed that after two years, almost one-quarter of participants had stopped injecting drugs and over half (57 per cent) had entered addiction treatment programs.
Overdose prevention sites also make communities safer by reducing public drug use and discarded drug equipment. The sites also reduce the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and provide savings to healthcare costs overall.
And they also reduce the strain on police, ambulance and first responder services, so they can focus on other emergencies.