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18 overdose deaths in July as Vancouver first responders combat 'new normal' in opioid crisis

Harrison Mooney

In this December, 9, 2016 file photo, Vancouver Fire Department Medical Unit respond to an unresponsive man in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. (Richard Lam/Postmedia Network files)

In this December, 9, 2016 file photo, Vancouver Fire Department Medical Unit respond to an unresponsive man in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. (Richard Lam/Postmedia Network files)

Vancouver police reported 18 probable overdose deaths in the month of July, a decrease from the 26 reported in June, but the opioid crisis shows little sign of slowing down.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service reported 568 calls in response to overdoses, a number that, while “extremely high,” according to the city, is similar to the number reported for June.

“The volume of calls for first responders is creating a new normal in the city’s response to the overdose crisis, putting continued strain on services,” said a City of Vancouver news release.

The numbers come in the same week that the city announced a new mandate requiring coroners to extensively document every suspected overdose, in an effort to create more comprehensive data that can be shared and used to combat the problem created by the proliferation of the powerful opioid fentanyl.

According to a B.C. Coroners Service report covering the first six months of the year, 780 deaths in the province over that span can be attributed to overdosing on illicit drugs, an 88 per cent from the same period a year ago. In total, there were 978 overdose deaths in B.C. last year, a number that could be eclipsed by the end of the summer if the province continues to average 130 a month.

“I urge anyone using drugs, whether casually or regularly, not to use alone,” said B.C.'s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, when the report was released last week. “Many deaths our coroners attend are in response to people who overdose with no one available to provide or summon critical and immediate medical assistance.”

hmooney@postmedia.com