VANCOUVER -- The man murdered outside St. Paul’s Hospital earlier this week is a long-time volunteer at overdose prevention sites, with colleagues saying his death is a blow to their efforts to save lives during the opioid crisis.

Thomus Donaghy was a regular in the alleys of the Downtown Eastside, quick to rush to help when someone faced a lethal reaction to poisoned drugs, said fellow volunteer Julie Day, adding that he was even part of a team that won an award from the City of Vancouver for their work.

“That was his calling. He really felt needed here and he was doing a lot of work here. He saved lots of lives,” Day told CTV News.

“He’s left us far too young. It’s been devastating for all of us. A huge loss,” she said, at a time when overdose deaths are on the rise as more people use alone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donaghy, 41, was on a break from a shift at the Overdose Prevention Site at St. Paul’s Hospital Monday night when authorities say he was targeted by someone in an assault that escalated to murder.

The site is now closed.

“When a person goes on his break and all of a sudden, they wind up dead, that’s a pretty scary thing,” said another fellow volunteer, Rodney.

“I did a lot of overdoses with him after hours. We worked the alleys, handed out socks, made sure people were breathing,” he said.

It was that work that won his team an award from the city in 2018. He can be seen standing next to then-mayor Gregor Robertson.

“It’s been crushing for us because he was such a beautiful person and saved so many lives,” said Overdose Prevention Society executive director Sarah Blyth.

“It’s another shocking tragedy down here for people to have to deal with in a time when more people are dying than ever. It’s really hard,” Blyth added.

Stabbing Vancouver

About 5,000 people have died of an overdose since a public health emergency was declared in 2016. The monthly figures spiked to 175 dead in June, the deadliest month yet, according to figures from the B.C. Coroners Office.

At an overdose prevention site, peer volunteers watch over users to make sure they don’t have a fatal reaction, often administering drugs like naloxone to counteract the effects of the opioid. However users have to supply their own drugs.

Some of those drugs could come from safe supply programs that have increased during the pandemic; there are now at least 750 patients in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Allowing even easier access to opiates for addicts would remove the criminal element from the supply, which might have made things safer for Donaghy, Blyth said.

“Let’s get people onto something safe. It’s good for the community. Then you wouldn’t have the violence that people are having to deal with,” she said.