The mother of a Maple Ridge man who died from an overdose in his room at the temporary modular housing complex believes legalizing drugs is the only way to save lives from the contaminated drug supply that has hit the local streets.
Joyce Bunge’s son Joseph Bauman died on Oct. 28 from an overdose of methamphetamine that was laced with fentanyl. He was only 45. Bauman – along with 161 others in British Columbia died from illicit drug overdoses in October alone, the equivalent of more than five people a day, according to the latest statistics released by the B.C. Coroner’s Service.
Up to the end of October, 27 people have died of an illicit drug overdose in Maple Ridge this year. In 2010 that number was four – for the entire year.
Bunge remembers her son as a smart and caring individual. When he was only 12, he decided to sign up with the St. John Ambulance to learn how to help people. It’s a quality he carried with him, even when he was homeless and on the streets of Maple Ridge, she said.
There he carried with him a Naloxone kit everywhere he went.
Joseph was brilliant when he put his mind to something, his mom said.
“Whether it was poetry or putting music together on mixing boards or computers, piecing together junky old bicycles to make them available to others, everything he did he was really quite good at,” she said.
However, when he was in his late teens, his mother believes mental illness became an issue.
“Not a lot was understood back then,” she said.
It was then that he started mixing alcohol and drugs.
When he was in his early 20s, he put himself into a psych ward and went through the Crossroads Treatment Centre Society in Kelowna. But he needed the drugs to quiet his pain, said Bunge. His drug of choice was methamphetamine.
“I have nothing against that because we all have crutches we need to go to. Unfortunately, his needs were something that were still illegal or illicit and it is killing people,” she said.
Bunge believes her son became homeless the summer of 2016. He was one of the first to inhabit Anita Place Tent City after the homeless camp was set up in May 2017. There, Bunge said, he found a community and a reason for being. Everybody had each other’s back and they were visible.
That said, when he finally received one of the 53 units at the Royal Crescent temporary supportive modular housing, his mother was relieved.
“I thought ‘now there won’t be weather coming through the tent walls at him and the rats running underneath the pallets.’ I thought at least he’s safe.”
However, that was not to be the case. He died in his room, where he had multiple Naloxone kits.
He was with a woman at the time, another person who was homeless.
But, his mother said, not only did the woman not attempt to revive him, but she never told anyone.
His body wasn’t discovered for about 36 hours.
Bunge wants to see illicit drugs legalized.
“Same as alcohol was done so many decades ago. That’s what I think the answer is,” she said.
And she also said there should be more testing sites for street drugs where users can get a complete breakdown of what is hiding in their drugs.
It’s a very complex problem, said Doug Sabourin, interim executive director at Alouette Addictions.
He would like to see illicit drugs both decriminalized and legalized.
“Legalization of quantities that people need to sustain their lives. To sustain the quality of their life until they can get the help they need,” he said, adding that it’s unrealistic to think that people are going to quit cold turkey.
What is needed is a more reasonable drug policy, he said.
Sabourin is concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the opioid crisis, which, he says has worsened. His organization tries to keep people safe, housed, fed, and in their social bubble. But if a person has a drug addiction, they need their drugs.
“And what’s happening is people are going to local suppliers who are making meth in bathtubs, say, and it’s bad stuff, it’s poison, it’s killing them,” said Sabourin.
Sabourin would also like to see “pandemic prescribing” where a doctor can prescribe an alternative drug that will give them the same feeling.
“But it’s legal and it can be monitored,” he noted.
Fraser Health does offer drug checking in the community where drug users are given test strips to check for fentanyl. There is also a spectrometer that can identify multiple ingredients in street drugs, including cutting agents. This service, however, is only available in Surrey. Fentanyl testing strips are offered at the Maple Ridge Public Health Unit at #400 – 22470 Dewdney Trunk Rd.
The opioid crisis is not going away, said Sabourin.
Safe supply and pandemic prescribing would be first really good steps to stop people from dying, he said.
Bunge wishes more was done at Royal Crescent to check on residents behind closed doors.
Her son had started going downhill, was thinner and missing teeth, within the few weeks before his death, said Bunge, who questioned how none of the staff noticed his decline.
Joseph’s obituary in The News noted that he was a son, father, brother, and uncle, that was taken away at “too soon of an age.”
“We are left wondering why this is still happening to people who need and deserve so much better,” it read.