A Vancouver man suffered serious burns over 40 per cent of his body after catching fire while overdosing on drugs.

Police say the unidentified man lost consciousness on a balcony Wednesday afternoon before a candle ignited his clothing. His injuries could have been far worse if not for a fast-acting restaurant worker who supressed the flames with a fire extinguisher before an ambulance arrived.

Adam Parsons told CTV Vancouver he didn’t immediately take it seriously when a bystander approached the taco eatery where he works to draw attention to the burning man. He quickly sprang into action once he saw the situation with his own eyes.

“I knew right away it looked pretty bad. I’m really glad he wasn’t awake,” he said. “His whole lower half was on fire. When I extinguished the fire he was black and green.”

Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood is on the edge of the city’s opioid epidemic, which is centered in the downtown east side.

Officials say the rate of overdoses shows no sign of slowing down as various levels of government scramble to find effective harm reduction solutions. The latest data from Vancouver Fire and Rescue shows the number of overdose calls they receive surged 22 per cent to 688 last month compared to March.

“It’s troubling because I think people anticipated at the end of 2016 when the call volume was extraordinarily high that this would level off or start to decline. It’s certainly not been the case,” said Capt. Jonathan Gormick of Vancouver Fire and Rescue.

The latest threat facing the drug users in the city come from new strains of the powerful opiate fentanyl fount to be resistant to Narcan, the medication first responders use to revive overdose patients.

Health officials complain they don’t have the technology and resources to keep up with the sheer volume of new designer drugs flooding the streets.

“The drug supply is toxic. And I don’t know, it may stay that way for a long time,” said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall.

He says he knows of at least 40 different fentanyl analogues created to intensify or prolong a user’s high that are difficult to detect with standard drug tests.

Parsons said he often sees drug users shooting up in the Gastown neighbourhood, but seeing an unconscious man engulfed in flames has left him shaken.

He said went back to work after the incident, but boss let him take the rest of the day off.

“I had to throw up afterwards, and I cried. It was crazy. I never want to do that again,” he said. “I’m still kind of really feeling it.”

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Penny Daflos