Fire departments truly are all-hazards responders — COVID-19 illuminated this brilliantly. No matter the response protocol to COVID that was decided, that is, whether they continued to respond to all medical calls or a limited set during the onset of the crisis, a conversation needed to be had because Fire is truly an all-around emergency service.
The novel coronavirus is the public health emergency that gripped the shoulders of early 2020 and has just now let the Canadian population drift weary, dangling toes against the floor to touch the surface in respite before an anticipated second wave may yank us our grounding from us once more. And it is during this interlude of sorts that the first tally of lockdown’s unintended casualties begin to peer tentatively from that which all-encompassed us. We have a short time span to look back on, but we now know opioid fatalities rose sharply during the pandemic, in British Columbia particularly. Ontario too is reporting a significant increase in deaths. Reports across Canada show increased illicit activity. The opioid epidemic did not go away because coronavirus arrived. In April 2016, British Columbia declared a public health emergency because of escalating opioid related-deaths. That was only four years ago and the epidemic rages on.
Much like the fire service needed to determine its response to coronavirus geographically, it has had varied plans for opioid response by region. Some departments carry the overdose-reversing agent Naloxone. Some choose not to. Each have their reasons in their unique communities.
As all-hazards responders, this scourge of public health needs to be on the radar of all fire departments. Addiction does not discriminate – wealthy or poor, young or old, there are many untold stories of addictions stemming from initial prescription use for injuries that later ended in accidental death. Who would ever picture that is the course their life would take? Addictions are public health problems whose perception suffers under stigma and beliefs.
Rising opioid fatalities are likely one of a variety of unintended consequences that we must now watch for. The full scope of mental health implications are most certainly pending. Though the virus is picking up speed in much of the poorer parts of the world, here in Canada we are beginning to pick up the pieces of its initial wrath, a job the all-hazards fire service will surely find themselves a part of.
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