B.C. family advocating for drug decriminalization following death of son

B.C. family advocating for drug decriminalization following death of son

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has noted the New Democrats would decriminalize personal possession of all drugs

Jennifer Hedican knew her son Ryan wanted help.

It was the weekend, and with her husband John, they took their son to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox. At the hospital, Ryan was only given a business card.

“They told us to call the public health nurse on Monday. On Monday, Ryan was gone.”

Hedican pauses for a moment, resting her arms on her kitchen table in her Courtenay home.

“If he was a cancer patient, would he have been given a card?”

• • •

Growing up in the Comox Valley, Ryan was, as described by John, “a typical little boy,” who played sports, water skied and played piano.

“Like a lot of things, he didn’t have to work very hard – he had a lot of natural ability,” adds Jennifer.

After graduating from Mark R. Isfeld Secondary, Ryan received his business diploma from North Island College. He thought he would open his own business, but couldn’t find anything that appealed to him, and went back to school for the electrical program at the college in Campbell River.

Prior to his post-secondary schooling, his parents agree they knew he was using drugs recreationally.

It began with alcohol in Grade 10, and shortly afterwards, Ryan was using marijuana. Later, he used heroin.

Jennifer says for the longest time, she attributed the shift in his behaviour to anxiety, but she now knows it was his drug use.

“I was surprised – I was shocked at first. He lived in our house and we would discuss his behavioral choices. He told me he was in a bad spot, but he wasn’t telling us he had a problem. There is a lot of shame in being a drug addict; he didn’t want to be a drug addict. He wanted to be with everyone else but he had this monkey on his back.”

Between his first and second year of school, Ryan found work in the Lower Mainland perfecting his trade.

John says he was able to get clean on his own and he did really well both in school and at the job site. He attended school in Burnaby for his second year and returned to work, but lost his job as his drug use increased.

The Hedicans offered to place Ryan in treatment, and he accepted. Following eight weeks of treatment, he moved home, and eventually found a job working at the Campbell River Hospital as a second-year electrician.

He began using again.

“He had a plan,” explains Jennifer. “He was only going to use every few days – that way he didn’t think he’d have withdrawal symptoms. That didn’t work too well; you’re never smarter than the drugs.”

Ryan eventually moved to Parksville where he lost contact with family for a few months. John received a call from him asking for help.

The family called a variety of resources seeking help. There were wait-lists and roadblocks, and the Hedicans knew Ryan wanted help immediately.

They found a treatment centre in New Westminster, where Ryan lived for eight months.

He found work in Vancouver, and had moved out with friends from the centre in mid-April.

A few days later, Ryan, 26, passed away on April 24, 2017, from a long battle of addiction due to, as termed by the Hedicans, “fentanyl poisoning.”

• • •

The Hedicans understand their approach to changing the way addiction is regarded and treated in Canada is controversial, but they believe lives can be saved by providing a safe, clean source for opiates and other drugs and decriminalizing personal possession.

Jennifer draws parallels between fentanyl and the AIDS crisis – and recalls when those who contracted AIDS were highly stigmatized within society – yet adds sexuality is a normal part of the human condition.

“Addiction is an unwanted disease caused by substance abuse,” Jennifer says firmly. “Substance use is a human condition. For those who say people chose that lifestyle – nobody chooses addition.

“What is the difference between pouring two glasses of wine or taking a toke of a joint or a line of cocaine? One is illegal. If you took the word ‘criminal’ out of it, you’ll see it as part of the human condition – it gives people pleasure. It’s inherent in those substances; that’s what they’re designed to do.”

John – who has spoken to representatives of various levels of government – wonders why the government supports the legalization of some drugs (alcohol and marijuana), yet not others. He feels the use of legal drugs often leads to the use of illegal and now poison-laced drugs.

“(People) are treated as criminals for simple possession; how come we provide safe injection sites yet it is illegal to have those substances in your possession?”

In a report released by the BC Coroners Service in November, there were 914 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C., with fentanyl detected from January through September 2017 – a 147 per cent increase (370 deaths) from the same period last year.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has noted the New Democrats would decriminalize personal possession of all drugs, not just marijuana.

Both John and Jennifer are sharing their experiences through school presentations and will continue to advocate for what they believe would be an option for government to address the fentanyl crisis.

They are asking others to contact government officials to share their concerns.

“My thoughts may not be your thoughts, but we’re putting an honesty and face to the numbers,” notes John. “It’s so easy to think that (overdoses and deaths) are happening to ‘those people’ – those on the Downtown Eastside. But it’s us. It’s happening to us.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

G.P. Vanier in Courtenay has six members of the community who have tested positive; Island Health identified seven staff and 78 students who will be required to self-isolate. Black Press file photo
SD71 identifies eight positive cases of COVID-19 and instructs 108 people to self-isolate

The letter noted that all who have tested positive did not contract COVID-19 within the school sites

Geoff Garbutt takes over as City of Courtenay CAO on April 14. Photo supplied
Courtenay council selects new city CAO

A new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) will be joining the City of… Continue reading

Two vehicles collided Wednesday morning north of Courtenay on the Old Island Highway. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Two-car MVA north of Courtenay

Accident took place after 7 a.m. on the Old Island Highway

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns says the recent spike… Continue reading

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The Town of Comox will formally examine speeding within the town. Black Press file photo
Comox to examine speeding within town

Following discussions at various council meetings, Comox council will formally examine speeding… Continue reading

A male customer without a face mask is seen inside a Burnaby Canadian Tire amidst an altercation with store security and staff members. (Video/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Man arrested after allegedly punching Burnaby Canadian Tire staff over mask rule

Mounties received reports Monday of a customer having punched more than one employee

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

A conceptual drawing of the preferred conveyance route for the Comox Valley Sewer Service.
Preferred conveyance route chosen for Comox Valley Sewer Service

The Comox Valley Sewage Commission approved a plan Tuesday to upgrade the… Continue reading

Most Read