West Shore first responders are now carrying naloxone and some local departments have had to administer the drug to patients suspected of overdosing.

West Shore first responders are now carrying naloxone and some local departments have had to administer the drug to patients suspected of overdosing.

West Shore first responders on front lines of drug overdose epidemic

Fire departments trained and ready to use naloxone for overdose patients

In the middle of another devastating month for drug overdoses in Greater Victoria, West Shore first responders continue to be on the front lines of some of these calls.

“Our hearts go out to the families that are dealing with these types of emergencies,” said Langford Fire Rescue Capt. Lance Caven. He added that the Langford department, along with other West Shore firefighters, are “responding to these calls as part of a team.”

By mid-December, the Langford department had already responded to four overdose calls.

Last month, 128 people in B.C. died from illicit drug overdoses – the highest monthly death total of the year. On average that was more than four deaths a day.

This week B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said so far December has been a “bad month” and she acknowledged the efforts of emergency responders on the front lines.

View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst noted that year-to-date they have responded to 25 overdose calls. While the system they use to track calls doesn’t differentiate what drugs are involved, he confirmed most were related to illicit drug use. Of those, he also confirmed, at least two were fatal.

In the first half of the December, View Royal had already responded to five overdose calls. That was up from the three they had in November.

Acting Fire Chief John Cassidy noted that year to date Colwood Fire Rescue has responded to 10 requests for assistance from B.C. Emergency Health Services for drug or alcohol intoxication.

In September the department activated a program to administer the overdose drug naloxone and has trained all its members on its use and administration. Since then firefighters have administered the drug three times.

Metchosin Fire Chief Stephanie Dunlop, whose crews have been trained on naloxone but have yet to use it, said it’s not always obvious that someone is overdosing, especially when they won’t admit to using drugs. Last month the department responded to two suspected overdose calls.

Dunlop reiterated that not all overdose calls are a result of illicit drugs and local departments can also receive calls for overdoses from prescription medication.

Stats announced this week put the year-to-date overdose death toll to 755 in B.C., a huge increase from the 443 seen in the same time period in 2015. Fentanyl had been detected in 374 deaths this year, or about 60 per cent – the number had tripled from the same time period in 2015.

By area, Vancouver had 164 deaths, Surrey 92 deaths and Greater Victoria 64. The government has implemented overdose prevention sites in all three cities, including two in Victoria, at Our Place on Pandora Avenue and the transitional housing facility on Johnson Street.

To combat the increasing death toll, Lapointe said, it’s crucial for those using drugs to be able to access help without experiencing negative stigmas or judgment and risking of loss of employment.

– with files from Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press

katie@goldstreamgazette.com