Another suspected overdose fatality in Maple Ridge last week has hit a city councillor particularly hard.
Coun. Craig Speirs fought back tears at Monday’s workshop when recounting the death of a friend’s son on the weekend.
“I knew him when he was a kid, a toddler,” said Speirs.
“It looks like we have another statistic from fentanyl. So I spent the weekend supporting a friend. It was really, really hard.”
With senior governments having abandoned the field, he said the city has to step up and do prevention work to keep the kids who are toddlers now from falling into the trap of drug use.
Speirs spoke to draw attention to the issue of illicit drugs and the skyrocketing numbers of fatal overdoses. Last year, 914 people died in B.C. from illicit drug overdoses, many of those linked to fentanyl.
In Maple Ridge, there were 27 fatal overdoses, two fewer than the year before.
“To me, it’s another child dead from the failure of [drug] prohibition,” Speirs said later.
Keeping street drugs illegal means there’s no control of the quality of drugs produced.
“You can’t control anything that’s illegal.”
Speirs says that drugs at least should be decriminalized to allow some control of what gets on to the street. Street drugs should even be provided free to users, he added.
“Literally give it to them. That will kill the dealers. That will kill the pushers. That will end a huge portion of the street-drug market.”
Speirs said that the man who overdosed “was a good kid,” and had a stable life and job.
“It’s the casual users who are really running up against it.”
Street people on the other hand, have learned how to protect themselves, he added.
“We should be having a national conversation around this.”
The federal government should find a way of dealing with drugs that doesn’t create more victims, he added.
“One thing I do know is that crime and punishment doesn’t work for something that’s personal,” where there are no other victims and when people ingest drugs just so they can feel good or normal.
A Chilliwack man, who had been best friends since Grade 1 with the man who died on the weekend, said his friend “was doing really good and I think he just got it thrown in his face. This fentanyl, it’s just lethal.”
He said the victim, along with another man, were each given the drug Friday afternoon.
Ridge Meadows RCMP said there were two sudden deaths on Saturday, one reported at 3 p.m., another at 6:30 p.m.
Foul play was not suspected in either and both cases are now being investigated by the B.C. Coroner’s Service.
The coroner’s service won’t confirm cause of death until test results are in and investigations are complete. That is particularly true in the case of a suspected overdose, said Alana McMahen, with the service.
Nafisa Abdulla, of Fraser Health, said that the authority does examine small clusters of overdoses.
“With that information, we would determine if there is a need to release a public advisory,” she added.
“We have no plans to notify the public at this time.”
Abdulla said Fraser Health continues to see increased numbers of illicit drug overdoses.
“Fentanyl continues to circulate in our communities and non-opoid drugs continue to be contaminated with fentanyl.”
Fraser Health advises people if they choose to use drugs to:
• make a plan;
• use with a sober buddy, tell someone and leave the door unlocked and check in;
• do testers, or small samples;
• get a Take Home Naloxone kit and get trained how to use it;
• Call 911 if there’s a possible overdose.