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The police asked the population to avoid the city center, to allow paramedics to help people in distress and to avoid accidents.
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Emergency services responded 14 times in a matter of hours Tuesday to downtown Belleville, Ontario, for suspected overdoses, according to police.
A press release issued shortly before 4:30 p.m. advised the public to be cautious and avoid traveling downtown if not necessary.
Hastings-Quinte Ambulance Chief Carl Bowker said his crews received seven calls in 40 minutes about unconscious people downtown. Five of them were transported to hospital on a high priority basis. In total, during the afternoon, emergency services responded to 14 calls.
It's both discouraging and frustrating, he said, explaining that the large number of calls overwhelmed local services. During the day, we only have seven ambulances available, so we rely on outside resources.
Belleville, located west of Kingston, has a population of 55,000 people.
Staff Sergeant Jeff Geen said police asked people to avoid the city center to allow emergency teams to have the necessary space to work and ensure that people experiencing overdoses are not harmed.
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There are people in the community who are overdosing and who are not always aware of their surroundings and who may venture out into the streets. This concerns us.
A quote from Jeff Geen, Staff Sergeant
Ambulance Chief Carl Bowker said police blocked part of the road to allow ambulances to pass.
He added that EMTs have received a few calls in the past few days about overdoses, but nothing like the number Tuesday afternoon.
After Carl Bowker left the scene, two paramedics remained for several hours at the Bridge Street United Church, which provides services to the homeless -shelter, in case of need.
This emergency comes months after Belleville officials sounded the alarm. The number of overdoses, they said, had increased more than 10-fold in the first days of November.
At a press conference on November 7, Police Chief Mike Callaghan said that typically there were six or seven overdoses reported per week.
However, during that first week of November, paramedics had received 90 calls about overdoses, one of which was fatal, he added .
We've never seen anything like this before, he said. We are facing a crisis in the community and we must act before more people lose their lives.
With information from CBC's Dan Taekema