Nanaimo Fire Rescue says it’s responding to a dramatic spike in drug overdoses this year.
With two months left in the year, their firefighters have responded to more than double the overdose calls it saw in 2022.
In a new report prepared for city council, Nanaimo Fire says the number of drug overdoses it’s been responding to has been increasing in recent years — from 271 in 2020 to 507 in 2021 to 672 in 2022 to 1,500 so far this year.
Nanaimo’s Mayor Leonard Krog says this shows the province needs a new approach to combatting the opioid crisis.
“It’s a horrendous number. Clearly, what’s been done in the last few years has not worked. I don’t see or don’t sense there is much public support for significant increases in safe supply,” said Krog.
With the dramatically increasing numbers comes dramatically increasing costs, so Nanaimo City Council is considering asking the province for funding to offset the cost of firefighter response to overdoses.
“We’ll continue to raise the question because the question properly is should local residents taxpayers be paying for what is essentially the delivery of medical services?” said Krog.
A similar resolution was passed by the Union of BC Municipalities in September, calling on the province to compensate local governments who provide emergency medical services through their fire and rescue services.
B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister, Jennifer Whiteside, says she knows more resources are needed.
“I know the Ministry of Health has significantly increased funding to first responders to firefighters emergency health services in particular, and we appreciate there’s a lot of pressure right now as we work to scale up our health response to the overdose crisis,” said Whiteside.
Gilbert Shaw says he’s been struggling with a drug addiction in Nanaimo, but he doesn’t want to become another statistic and plans to go into recovery for his daughter.
“I wanted to be loved by a father, and I never got that, but now I have the opportunity for her. I don’t want to waste that chance,” said Shaw.
He says drug addiction is a tough battle to overcome, but he’s ready to put overdoses behind him and find help.
In August, the BC Coroners Service released data that Nanaimo was also on pace to break a record this year for overdose deaths.