Ambulances parked outside of a hospitalWith a state of emergency declared in Belleville due to the opioid crisis, the city’s paramedics are sounding the alarm and calling for much more to be done.

“We’re seeing an incredible explosion in calls to respond to overdoses and we’re doing our best, but this isn’t sustainable,” said Rob Cunningham, President of CUPE 1842, representing the paramedics of the Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Service. “Paramedics are experiencing PTSD, burning out because they’re skipping meal breaks, and stretched thin responding to a range of emergencies, including these complex overdose calls. The reality is we aren’t getting that time to refill our cup before getting out there again to support our community.”

In February, 14 people overdosed within a two-hour period. And in an op-ed in the Maclean’s, the chief of the region’s Paramedic Service wrote: “We usually get six or seven calls for suspected overdoses each week, but in the first week of November in 2023, we responded to 90 calls.” Consequently, the mayor of Belleville, Neil Ellis, declared a state of emergency and issued a request to the province for additional resources. The Ontario government responded to the mayor’s request for $2 million with $216,000.

“This isn’t good enough,” said Cunningham. “The opioid crisis is only exposing the decades of underfunding that have left us understaffed and stretched thin. We need significant and sustained funding – not one-time infusions – to ensure that we can properly recruit and retain paramedics to respond to this continuing crisis.”

“This crisis isn’t going away—we need all levels of government to acknowledge the plea for help and address the problem accordingly.”