By holding senior governments accountable for a “staggering loss of life,” John and Jennifer Hedican hope to change the way municipal councils respond to the illicit drug crisis.
The Courtenay couple lost their son Ryan to fentanyl poisoning in 2017. He was 26. Ryan had tried different avenues to overcome addiction, including the Last Door Recovery Society in New Westminster. He had completed eight months of recovery and returned to work as a third-year electrician, but he relapsed and died through a fentanyl poisoning at his job site during a lunch break.
“There are no words to describe the pain and sorrow every day of not having Ryan in our lives,” Jennifer said Monday in a presentation to Courtenay council.
Her son was among 124 people in B.C. who died in April, 2017.
“Two-and-a-half years later, over 100 British Columbians continue to be poisoned and die a preventable death, month after month, year after year. The federal drug policy that supports the war on drugs is an absolute failure. It has had no positive change in our communities and never will.”
The Hedicans are imploring Courtenay and other councils to pressure provincial and federal leaders, and political parties, to change their policies. Had Ryan been addicted to alcohol, they said he could have purchased what he needed that day because alcohol is provided through a government-controlled system.
“Our current drug policy which allows organized crime to be the sole provider of toxic drugs that has killed over 4,000 in our province (since 2016) and over 13,000 in our country, along with putting millions at risk of immediate death, is responsible for Ryan’s death,” Jennifer said. “The toxic drugs supplied by organized crime does not give substance users another chance.”
John notes that drug addiction affects more people than cancer, yet there is an “appalling lack of support” for addiction across Canada.
“When Ryan called us asking for help, our community and health system left it up to us to get him that help. Detox was not available in our community and I had to drive around the Comox Valley for two days buying Ryan heroin, not knowing if it would kill him, as recovery facilities did not offer intake on weekends.”
Two-and-a-half years later on a Saturday, John called the Comox Valley Recovery Centre to see if detox was available. He was told to call back Monday.
“Ryan was sent away from emergency with my wife as he was handed a card that said to call the addictions nurse on Monday, when an appointment could be made within two to three weeks to see her, and then to see the one addiction doctor in Campbell River in a few months.”
John said relapse is a normal component of addiction — which he calls a complex neurological disease that requires updated and researched treatment methods. The BC Coroners Service has changed the language for illicit drug deaths, which are now reported as death due to toxicity, not overdose. The Hedicans said the new language takes the onus off the individual and onto elected officials.
“If any other demographic was being poisoned by any other product, the source would be named, yet the source, organized crime and a toxic drug supply, has not been addressed. It is not even talked about,” John said.
Jennifer said Portugal has demonstrated that decriminalizing possession of drugs has improved the lives of drugs users, and their community.
“In Portugal, a user is not a criminal, but rather a human being that possibly needs support,” she said.
The couple asked council to change how it responds to the crisis that is “poisoning people in your community.” They suggest reaching out to media to demand government to be the sole provider of all drugs, to remove drug houses from neighbourhoods, and to spend tax dollars on issues to make positive change.
Mayor Bob Wells said council is trying to arrange for a warming centre where people can stay during the day. Council has also spoken with Premier John Horgan and various ministers about the need for greater movement on addictions and mental health issues — which tend to fall outside the municipal mandate.
“Some of the work that we’ve done actually goes beyond that mandate already,” Wells said.
At the last Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Coun. Melanie McCollum said resolutions to address safe supply did not make it to the floor, but will be decided by committee and forwarded to the province.
Coun. Wendy Morin has submitted those resolutions to the regional district board.
“I know other municipalities are trying to pass similar policies,” she said. “I really take your point around not everybody’s going to access those services. We really need a broad menu of responses. I have loved ones going through this as well. We need to, at the very least as a council, promote values that deal with stigma, that address a lot of the comments that you’ve made. I commend you for coming and sharing again. Our council is behind you.”