The Penticton Fire Department witnessed eight overdoses Wednesday as toxic drug supplies surged through the Okanagan.
All but one of the overdoses occurred at the Victory Church shelter on Winnipeg Street, according to the daily fire dispatch list.
These overdoses do not represent all overdoses attended by paramedics or where naloxone was administered by individuals or the user and emergency services were not called.
Wednesday, February 16 was also the day the welfare checks were distributed. According to the British Columbia Coroners Service, fatal overdoses increase by 35-40% within five days of income assistance payments.
Also on Wednesday, Interior Health issued a rare region-wide warning about high amounts of fentanyl in street drugs.
“It’s painful and frustrating. This has been the story for a long time. There is a crisis situation in our communities and it is getting worse,” said Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson.
Calls to the fire station increased by 1,000 in 2021 compared to the previous year.
The overdose crisis has taken its toll on first responders who have been on the front lines for so long.
“People who overdose are often abusive to responders. We have to have the RCMP with us,” he said.
Watkinson is expanding its mental health supports for firefighters.
“We ensure that our members are taken care of for their mental health. We debrief and organize mental health days,” he added.
Penticton RCMP Superintendent Brian Hunter was before city council recently to say officers in Penticton handle twice as many mental health and addictions calls per capita as in cities like Kelowna and Kamloops.
The crisis on the streets uses an exorbitant amount of resources which should be focused on crime fighting and proactive policing, he added.
What has been done so far by the levels of government has not helped. Interior Health did not return questions about its response to the recent increase in overdoses.
The Penticton Fire Chief believes the federal and provincial governments should at least consider a clean drug supply as a proactive way to make a difference in the overdose crisis.
“It has become a huge burden on all of our services, from the hospital, the RCMP, the fire department, the ambulance. There would be cost recovery if there was a secure supply. We have to try something.
To report a typo, send an email: [email protected].