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Drug overdose ambulance calls soar in Terrace

Province also boosts number of paramedic positions
Calls for service due to the toxic drug crisis have increased in Terrace and area. (File photo)

Drug overdose and poisoning ambulance calls in Terrace and area have exploded since the provincial government declared a toxic drug state of emergency in 2016, reported the B.C. Emergency Health Services agency.

From 38 calls in 2016 for what the service labels Card 23 events for overdoses and poisonings, the number rose to 39 in 2017, to 59 in 2018, and to 98 in 2019 before soaring to 208 in 2020, to 259 in 2021 and to 357 last year.

Last year’s 357 calls for overdoses and poisonings were far and away the most in the region when looking at the 81 for Prince Rupert, the 59 in Smithers, the 35 in Kitimat and the 28 in Houston.

As a percentage, 11.7 per cent of all the Terrace and area ambulance calls were for overdoses and poisonings, nearly twice the average for all of B.C.

Terrace also had the most calls for service of all kinds in the region last year at 3,042. That’s substantially more than the 2,193 calls in Prince Rupert and the 1,146 calls in Kitimat.

Paramedics responded to 33,654 overdoses/poisonings in 2022, an average of 92 calls a day and which represents a five per cent drop from 2021’s 35,585 calls.

Still, the 2021 figure is a 31 per cent increase over the 27,067 calls in 2020.

But while overdose/poisonings may have decreased from 2021 to 2022, they rose by 17 per cent within the Northern Health Authority area.

The health ministry added paramedic positions in Terrace and area and around the province beginning in 2020 to prepare for increased demand relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those positions were at first regarded as temporary but now have been converted into permanent full time jobs.

For Terrace, that’s meant two advanced care paramedic positions now converted to full time and the addition of eight other full time positions and two irregular primary care positions.

But six of those positions remain vacant with the emergency health services agency saying they could be filled by this June.

Meanwhile, all four of the paramedic positions, including a job as a community paramedic, in Kitwanga remain vacant and have been for more than a year.

“B.C. Emergency Health Services is working hard to recruit for the open positions in Kitwanga,” a statement from the agency read.

“Paramedic crews from Hazelton currently provide coverage for emergency medical calls in Kitwanga.”

B.C. Emergency Health Services has acknowledged the increased pressure on paramedics over the past several years.

“The pandemic, the toxic drug crisis, climate event and other factors have increased calls and put pressure on the system and on our employees,” it stated.

“Some of our staff challenges have been from vacancies and some staff illness, due to a variety of reasons including COVID-19 and mental health.”

Paramedics do have access to peer support, counselling and, if needed, a psychologist.