Penticton the outlier as ambulance OD calls keep rising

Penticton the outlier as ambulance OD calls keep rising

Penticton was among just three Okanagan communities in which paramedics were summoned to fewer overdose calls in 2022 than the year prior, according to B.C. Emergency Health Services.

Paramedics were called out to suspected drug overdoses 661 times last year in Penticton, down from 748 in 2021.

Peachland, which saw calls decline from 13 to eight, and Lake Country, where calls dropped from 27 to 22, were the only other communities in the region to notice declines.

By contrast, Kelowna’s annual call volume rose from 1,590 to 1,824, and Vernon’s climbed from 457 to 513.

Across the entire Interior Health region, the tally rose from 5,417 to 5,931.

“It’s really wearing on paramedics, and it’s just on top of the call volume and workload we’ve already got. It’s taking a toll on paramedics and all first responders,” said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, in an interview Tuesday.

“It’s not a crisis anymore; it’s a part of our daily operations, unfortunately.”

B.C. as whole saw ambulance calls for overdoses decline from 35,585 to 33,654 in 2022, although Clifford believes such numbers should be taken with a grain of salt because “our experience, anecdotally, is calls aren’t going down.”

That all averaged out to an average of 2,800 calls per month in 2022.

“We saw two months with more than 3,000 overdose/poisoning calls in 2022, and on Jan. 19, 2022, a new daily record was set with BCEHS receiving 203 overdose/poisoning calls that day,” said BCHES in a statement.

And despite the provincial total falling – on paper, at least – in 2022, it’s still up 75% since 2016, when the opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency.

The trendline is even worse in the Okanagan.

Penticton recorded just 157 overdose calls in 2016, meaning 2022’s total of 661 represents a 321% increase.

Kelowna’s number spiked 132% from 785 to 1,824 over that same time period, while Vernon’s rose 202% from 170 to 513.

Clifford acknowledged the B.C. government has added hundreds of new paramedics and upgraded dozens of ambulance stations over the past two years but feels it’s still not enough.

“There’s no question that the government’s been investing in communities around the province, but really we go so far behind that it’s crucial that we continue to keep pressure on,” said Clifford.

Paramedics will also have a front-row seat to the effects of Tuesday’s decriminalization of possession of small amounts of hard drugs in B.C.

“I don’t know if it changes much for us, other than it might change people’s willingness to call for help when they are in a situation because of the fear of being caught. I think that could probably help with saving lives,” said Clifford.