EDITORIAL: Opioid crisis has broad reach

Emergency responders also affected by changes to lifesaving protocols

Given the number of overdose deaths recorded on the West Shore, around Greater Victoria and across B.C., most would agree that the fentanyl-fuelled health crisis here has reached a critical stage.

The potency of this drug, often contained within such substances as heroin or available in pill form, has caught many people by surprise, from the users themselves to the emergency responders who must attend to them when things go terribly wrong.

While not everyone can empathize with the person who risks much – including their life – to achieve a high, more people might feel for the emergency responders who attend to overdose calls and whose goal it is to keep people alive long enough to get them to hospital.

In the vast majority of cases, it’s not the fault of paramedics or firefighters that a person dies from overdosing on drugs. The potential for the worst to happen increases the moment that users put the drugs into their bodies.

But with more people dying or sustaining brain damage from overdosing on high-octane opiates – people from various socio-economic groups – it has to have an effect on the people who attend to them in emergency situations.

There are logistical consequences from this new wave of emergency calls. Paramedics are having to spend more time with patients, due to the extreme effects of fentanyl-laced drugs, for example. That can ultimately lead to longer wait times for individuals requiring immediate medical care for other reasons.

But the trauma of seeing people die, many in the prime of their lives, has to wear on an emergency responder, regardless of how steeled they are for such situations.

We appreciate that in View Royal at least, the fire department has boosted the availability of therapists for its members, and expanded their critical incident debriefing sessions to allow firefighters to talk about calls.

Similar opportunities are available for B.C. Emergency Health Services paramedics.

Taking steps to reduce the number of overdose deaths in our area and the province is critical. But paying attention to the effects this crisis has on the first responders on whom we rely so much on is also extremely important.

 

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