A woman who thought she was ingesting cocaine died of an overdose last summer. Her husband says the only illicit drug found in her system was fentanyl.

Husband of Peninsula overdose victim speaks to tragedy

Planning continues for fentanyl forum to address trend that has taken deadly toll in South Surrey, White Rock

The woman – a gainfully employed, well-liked mother on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – had done cocaine before.

She wasn’t an addict or even a regular user. Those who knew her said she took the illicit stimulant “on occasion.”

But on a night out last summer, the woman took what she believed was cocaine for the last time, fatally overdosing on a substance that was later determined to be laced with fentanyl.

“That was the only drug that was in there,” the woman’s spouse told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

“It wasn’t cocaine at all.”

The man – who said he isn’t ready to speak at length publicly about what happened – described this year’s epidemic of fatal overdoses, and the link to fentanyl in particular, as “just a real tragedy.”

As of Oct. 31, 622 people in B.C. have died of overdoses, with an estimated 60 per cent of those linked to the deadly opiate.

The mother’s death, which occurred in Surrey, “was felt very strongly” on the Peninsula, said George Passmore, manager of counselling and substance-use services for Sources Community Resource Centres.

“The shockwave of her loss – it was devastating for a great many people,” he said. “She was very loved.”

Passmore cited the tragedy as an example of fentanyl’s local impact. While officials say there is a perception that the crisis is largely a North Surrey and Downtown Eastside issue, the reality is fentanyl has reared its head in both South Surrey and White Rock on more than that one occasion this year.

Last month, two men, aged 34 and 58, died in separate overdose incidents in one weekend in White Rock; in one, two children were present in the home. That same weekend, police in South Surrey responded to an overdose involving a 30-year-old man.

And in September, a 20-year-old South Surrey woman died after ingesting what her family described as an “accidental but deadly concoction of prescription and non-prescription” drugs.

“Certainly, this is unprecedented,” Passmore said of the death toll associated with a single substance. “We’ve never had to be thinking about mortality on this frequent a basis.”

Passmore is among local officials and experts who convened at Sources’ White Rock office last Friday afternoon to brainstorm ways to raise awareness on the Semiahmoo Peninsula that receiving fentanyl-laced drugs is a possibility for anyone who decides to use – whether as an addict or a first-time user.

“The risk profile is spread,” Passmore said. “It’s never been more likely than it is now.”

Authorities say the drug’s potency and relatively low cost has been a draw for dealers, who have been using it increasingly in recent years to cut their product and maximize profits.

A lethal dose is estimated to be the equivalent of about two grains of salt.

Steps are ongoing at municipal, provincial and federal levels to  address the crisis. Last week, Health Canada announced regulatory changes aimed at restricting access to six chemicals that are used to make fentanyl; and on Tuesday, Fraser Health announced efforts to establish two safe-consumption sites in Surrey, as well as boost access to opioid-substitution treatments in Abbotsford and Maple Ridge.

The latter is needed locally, Passmore said, noting there are currently no doctors on the Semiahmoo Peninsula who prescribe the heroin substitute, suboxane.

A community forum is being planned for the new year, but exactly how it will look is still being determined. Passmore and others involved – the effort is being co-ordinated by Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg – say stories like that of the woman who died last summer will be key.

“These are just everyday people. These are your friends, your family… caring people and loving people, and contributing to society,” Hogg said. “It’s not as easy to push away and say it’s somebody else’s issue.”

Passmore said his vision for the forum isn’t of instilling fear, but of dialogue and engagement focused on reversing the trend.

Hogg said efforts to raise awareness prior to Christmas will include distribution of posters and handheld cards created by Fraser Health regarding fentanyl. They will be distributed through organizations including youth groups, the chamber of commerce and local businesses, he said.

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

Just Posted

Vancouver Police were at a White Rock home Oct. 20 to conduct a search warrant. (Aaron Hinks photo)
ERT response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Oct. 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Ivan Scott. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Surrey mayor enters word war with speakers, councillor

McCallum calls brief recess after asking two speakers to leave chambers

Signs at a new COVID-19 testing and collection centre at 14577 66th Ave. in Surrey. It was relocated from an urgent primary care centre near Surrey Memorial Hospital. This new centre allows for up to 800 tests per day, which is 550 more than the previous centre, according to Fraser Health. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s COVID-19 case count exceeds 1,800

About 800 new cases in September

Montreal-based writer Michael Foy grew up in the Newton area of Surrey. (submitted photo)
Surrey-raised writer Foy really loves to set his short stories in the city

His latest is published in ‘Canadian Shorts II’ collection

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Maple Meadows Station’s new Bike Parkade. TransLink photo
TransLink to remove abandoned or discarded bicycles from bike parkades

Rules at TransLink bike parkades ask customers to use facilities for single day use only

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

Most Read