Paramedics report doubled overdose calls in last weeks of July

Parkland Ambulance reminding public to be wary of what substance you're using and where you're getting it from

(Herald file photo)

Parkland Ambulance recorded over double the amount of overdose calls in the Prince Albert area within the last two weeks of July.

For the week of July 20, paramedics responded to nine calls for overdoses. The next week, starting July 27, they responded to 20.

Director of Public Affairs Lyle Karasiuk couldn’t say how much of the increase was related to drugs or alcohol, for example. Overdoses is a large category for Parkland, consisting of intentional or accidental consumption ranging from street drugs, to alcohol, to poisoning in babies.

He also couldn’t speculate the reason behind the spike. They typically see overdose increases when a certain substance is moving through the city, but based on conversation with law enforcement, that likely isn’t what’s happening.

“I think that the number of overdose calls could be simply just one of those sort of, should we say blips for a lack of a better word, that happens in each of our days,” said Karasiuk.

“Last week we might have seen—and I don’t have the numbers in front of me—we might have seen 10 fall calls, but the week before only two.”

“Again, there’s no way of saying there’s something out there unless it’s seasonal.”

People could also be reporting overdoses more as a result of increased awareness, he said.

Regardless, Karasiuk encouraged anyone experiencing an addiction to seek resources at Access Place or through public health.

“We do cautiously remind them to always be aware of what you’re using, from what source because prices, as we’ve heard from our law enforcement colleagues, change and therefore the quality of the substance changes as well,” he said.

“That’s the sad part of what we see—do we, in the city, need to start considering a safe injection site? I don’t know, I think there’s room for that discussion.”

AIDS Saskatoon, which has now changed its name to Prairie Harm Reduction, is eyeing an Oct. 1 opening date of the safe injection site in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood. It will be the first safe injection site in Saskatchewan.

After being denied funding by the provincial government earlier this year, Prairie Harm Reduction is hoping to raise $60,000 to pay a primary care paramedic to supervise users.

Karasiuk said the public tends to stigmatize these sites, thinking they’re a free-for-all for people to use drugs. The intent, however, is not to fix the problem or decriminalize it.

He saw this first-hand when he toured a safe injection site a couple of years ago in Toronto.

Instead, he said, safe injections sites are meant to be “a safety net for them not to be in a back alley, not to be in some rundown building where if something goes wrong, they end up dying.”

Paramedics also reported a slight increase in overdoses in the Prince Albert area at the beginning of July. In an interview at the time, Karasiuk reminded the public of what to do if you witness an overdose.

If it’s safe to approach the person, he said to first check if they’re breathing. If they’re not, roll them on to their side and call 911. You’ll then need to start rescue breathing.

You can also go to Access Place or a pharmacy and get a free naloxone kit to reverse the effects of opioids in the event of an overdose.

with files from Zak Vescera, Saskatoon StarPhoenix