An emergency overdose response unfolds calmly and swiftly
On the evening of Thursday, March 17, Vancouver Fire and Rescue, police and finally the B.C. Ambulance Service responded to a medical emergency at the McDonald’s in the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue.
Ten days later, I can say with certainty that the medical emergency was an overdose and that naloxone, the opioid-blocker, was administered by injection, before paramedics arrived, either by one of the attending Vancouver police officers, or by Fire and Rescue responders.
Both services now carry naloxone (sold under under the brand name Narcan). When injected, this drug can safely (and almost miraculously) reverse the effect of an overdose within two minutes!
At the time, however, almost all I could say for certain was that paramedics gently placed a stretcher-bound female customer into an ambulance at just after 9 p.m.
Until I saw the ambulance arriving westbound in the eastbound lane of West Broadway Avenue, I had been too wrapped up in what I was doing on my laptop to notice the emergency response unfolding in the restaurant barely three metres from me.
When I finally did take notice, I could see the raven-haired young woman who was the object of the emergency responders’ attention. She was conscious and sitting on one of the high bar seats by the front windows on the east corner of the restaurant facing West Broadway Avenue. She was conscious but visibly very groggy.
At the time, as I said at the top, I wouldn’t speculate on her condition, beyond saying that Thursday had been St Patrick’s Day and that it may also have been the sixth of a nine day break for primary and secondary school students.
I watched as a police officer succinctly brought the paramedics up to speed, explaining that the woman had been unconscious when he had arrived on the scene.
A friend of mine later related to me how he had been seated directly opposite the woman and had watched her go into convulsions and appear to pass out at her table. One of the two people who was with her then immediately scrambled to look through her pockets and backpack as if looking for something.
The paramedics carefully moved the woman onto a wheeled stretcher. They removed her sweater and basically made her comfortable. I could hear one of them asking her questions, which she was able to answer, such as what her name was.
Just before the paramedics put the woman into the ambulance, I asked one of them if she was going to be all right. The paramedic told me that she certainly would be, which was good to hear.
A year ago, in March of 2015, on the occasion of witnessing an overdose in the same McDonald’s where the March 17 overdose took place—when I had to insist that someone call an ambulance—I wrote about the growing tendency for street drugs in Vancouver and elsewhere being cut with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. I argued that staff in chain restaurants like McDonald’s needed training to recognize opioid overdoses, which could look as innocent as a person nodding off into a deep sleep.
The intervening year has seen at least four overdoses in the McDonald’s just off South Granville Street. As a result, even without any training from their employer, the staff at this restaurant are quickly learning to recognize the signs of an overdose. Click the image to enlarge them.