Jennifer and John Hedican have spoken to politicians, municipal governments, service clubs and more than two dozen schools, hoping someone will answer their ask.
In April 2017, the Valley family lost their son Ryan, 26, due to fentanyl poisoning, following a long battle of addiction. For years, they have been advocating for the decriminalization of personal possession of opiates and other drugs.
A few years ago, they even tried to petition the federal government calling for the declaration of the overdose crisis as a National Public Health Emergency, to reform current drug policy to decriminalization and the creation of a system to provide safe substances.
In its response, which was tabled in January 2019, the federal government said it is not currently considering the decriminalization of personal possession of drugs, other than the legalization and regulation of cannabis.
It was also noted that declaring a national public health emergency at this time would not provide the government with any additional powers beyond what it has already used.
Within B.C., in April 2016, the provincial health officer declared a public health emergency due to a significant increase in opioid-related overdose deaths.
“It’s been considered a health emergency for seven years; more than 8,000 have died. There is zero urgency,” said John.
Jennifer described feeling beyond frustrated and extremely disappointed at the lack of government policy and overall response to the emergency.
“I thought the petition would have made more headway but it moved at glacier speed – this is an emergency.”
John noted 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.”
The couple expressed frustration at talking with those in political positions: they both agree that many policymakers they have spoken to will agree with their perspective privately and their ask, but will not do so publicly.
“It’s hard to continue with that energy – you feel defeated, disappointed and disgusted,” noted John. “It’s like nobody’s listening, and we continue to watch families lose children, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives.”
The pair said they have been chipping away at changing people’s perception in order to change reality, and that families who are in similar positions as the Hedicans reach out to them for support. The systems in place don’t provide answers, Jennifer explained, and added there are many who feel a certain shame associated with having a family member lost to the crisis.
“What can be done to change the way things are going? Politicians aren’t able to deal with this emergency – we have to deal with real solutions,” noted John. “There is such a stigma and shame; we have a choice, and it’s an issue that affects so many people directly or indirectly.”
– With files from Scott Stanfield