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Updated: 14th January 2019 13:21

Opioid crisis in Calgary 'hasn't peaked yet,' says fire chief

Fire Chief Steve Dongworth says life-saving Narcan used by firefighters in Calgary about once a day.

Steve Dongworth says life-saving Narcan spray used about once a day by city fire crews

Calgary fire Chief Steve Dongworth says his crews administer Narcan about once a day. (Audrey Neveu/CBC)

Calgary's fire chief says his crews are seeing no signs yet that the number of opioid overdoses in the city has peaked.

Chief Steve Dongworth says firefighters responded to 37 per cent more opioid calls last year than in the previous year.

But the fire department's use of naloxone, which can reverse the impacts of an overdose, has not increased.

Dongworth says it's used by firefighters in Calgary about once a day.

"We've had a significant increase in calls, and you're probably wondering, so why haven't we had the same increase in naloxone [usage]? And part of that is because these calls don't present themselves as an overdose," he said during a year-end interview with CBC Calgary. 

"We find people who are in cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest, and of course the priority is to get their heart going again, to get them breathing again, before we even think about administering Narcan, which is the nasal spray that we use, which of course is naloxone. 

Narcan can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. (Adapt Pharma Canada)

Dongworth added paramedics often arrive at the same calls as firefighters when a drug overdose is suspected and they will be the ones to administer the life-saving drug. 

"We follow the number of events we go to, the number of deaths in the city and in the province — we follow all those things — and there's no doubt this still hasn't peaked yet, unfortunately," he said. 

"Of course, what we want to see it do is start reducing, but at the moment we're still seeing a trend that would indicate opioid use is still on the increase in the city."

About half of all calls the Calgary Fire Department responds to are medical situations.

With files from Scott Dippel

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