SASKATOON -- Medavie Health Services in Saskatoon is reporting a record number of overdose calls over the past week, with paramedics receiving 88 emergency calls.

The average number for a week is between 40 and 45.

“To see those numbers come in was quite alarming,” said Troy Davies, director of public affairs for Medavie Health Services West.

“We basically are seeing two messages here; for the patients that receive narcan, 20 patients were at a point where they weren’t breathing effectively on their own, which is (a) life or death situation.”

Narcan is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, commonly used for decreased breathing in an opioid overdose.

“Those patients chose to take a narcotic, which is basically putting their life in the hands of a drug dealer, because they never know what they’re taking,” Davies said.

Davies believes the rise in overdose calls is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as 65 of those calls were a result of alcohol or marijuana, and not narcotic overdoses, he said.

“To see that many calls come in, now we’re looking at ‘is this a side factor of what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in Saskatoon,’ where people are being isolated, and we might be seeing some depression or mental health issues,” Davies said.

Faith Bodnar with the Canadian Mental Health Association said they’ve seen a rise in people using its services, from what she calls an ‘echo pandemic’.

“For anybody who’s struggling with substance use or addictions, this pandemic has made it that much more difficult, and a bigger struggle,” Bodnar said. “Our contact with our regular clients is growing, and it’s current at two to three times more often than it would’ve been prior to the closedown and restrictions.”

She encourages those who are feeling isolated or feel they have nobody to talk to to reach out. On April 20, the CMHA set up a wellness support health line across the province, another means of support for people feeling isolated during the public health restrictions. 

“If we think about how vulnerable and marginalized people who use substances are already, many of them struggle with poverty and homelessness,” she said. “You can imagine how that is going to be exacerbated for people, and we just need to make sure that we have the things available to respond to those kinds of issues.”

Davies echoed Bodnar's sentiments. 

“The power of just phoning someone and communicating, even expressing how crappy of a day you’re having, can have a really positive response on your body,” Davies said.