Overdose crisis is ‘hitting good kids’

Organizers of White Rock event say conversation around substance use needs to change

The faces of two young Peninsula adults who died of fentanyl-related overdoses were front-and-centre at the White Rock Community Centre Wednesday evening.

The young man, dark-haired and smiling in the photo held up by presenter George Passmore, died last month. The young woman, also dark-haired and smiling in the photo held up by Passmore’s colleague Jennifer Hammersmark, died in February.

Both were alumni of Earl Marriott Secondary and in their 20s. Both died alone.

Passmore and Hammersmark were visibly distraught as they briefly spoke of the deaths. They shared the painful examples to drive home the reality of the overdose epidemic: it’s happening to people who call this community home, who are loved, had value and are missed.

And, it’s not stopping.

“There really isn’t any good reason why my son’s here and he’s not,” Hammersmark said of the young man who died.

He was her son’s best friend.

“I just want people to understand this is hitting good kids,” Hammersmark said. “These are faces of good kids from really good families.”

Passmore, who is Sources manager of substance-use services, told attendees the issue “has touched many people.”

The Stop Overdose Surrey event was the last of three in a series that also included presentations in Cloverdale and City Centre, organized by the Surrey Overdose Community Action Team.

More than three dozen people came out to White Rock’s event, a turnout that Passmore said “heartens me.”

“This is a topic that doesn’t get enough conversation going.”

Starting conversations was a goal of the series, and attendees Wednesday – a number of who were wiping tears throughout the two-hour presentation – were given much to think about.

Surrey, Passmore said, has seen an “exponential curve” in fentanyl-related deaths since 2012 – from three recorded that year, to 139 in 2017.

While there had been a sense of improvement in the crisis, he said, that trend has dissipated.

“Looks like it’s climbing a bit in the last couple of months,” he said. “This is not trending the way we want.”

Mark Goheen, Fraser Health’s clinical services lead for mental health and substance use, told attendees the overdose issue is not new, but it is getting “bigger, not better.”

“We’re on target for another dreadful year,” he said.

Both Goheen and Passmore said changing the conversation around substance use is critical to curbing deaths. Right now, the majority are happening in private residences, largely due to the stigma attached to addiction, as well as the blame and judgment associated with it.

The stigma is stopping many who need help from coming forward to ask for it, they said.

He cited a sign seen on a tow truck over the past two Christmas seasons as an example of the type of conversation around addiction that needs to change. The sign reads, ‘GIVE ’EM ALL FENTANYL.’

“What he’s saying is, kill them all,” Goheen said. “We’re still in a society that tolerates this kind of thing.”

Passmore challenged attendees to each host three conversations this week to help change the approach to addiction and build “important” connections.

A woman who spoke of her son’s overdose-death shared one example of how starting such a conversation can change a life. She explained that four weeks after her son died, her husband opened up about it on Facebook. The post led a distant relative to share it, declaring his own substance-use issues. That relative is now two weeks into recovery, and “I’m going to see him tomorrow.”

 

UFC competitor Kajan Johnson speaks at Wednesday’s Stop Overdose Surrey event, held at the White Rock Community Centre. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Just Posted

White Rock pier-plank purchasers celebrated

Donors received a certificate Sunday marking their purchase of a pier plank

White Rock looking at 3.9% tax increase

Budget discussions are to take place this week

PHOTOS: White Rock Festival of Lights celebrated with a cheer

Hundreds of people gathered in the city Saturday for a Christmas event

Plans for new Surrey hospital to be updated Monday

News conference announced by Premier Horgan and health minister Adrian Dix

Surrey 37 per cent behind in housing supply projections

Of 18 cities in Metro Vancouver, only City of North Vancouver and Richmond met or exceeded projections

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

Students call for spending as international enrolment produces huge surpluses at many universities

Conservatives urge Morneau to deliver ‘urgent’ fall economic update

Morneau says the first thing the Liberals plan to do is bring in their promised tax cut for the middle class

INFOGRAPHIC: How much money did your local university or college make last year?

B.C. university and colleges posted a combined $340 million surplus in 2018/19

B.C. creates $8.5M organization to improve safety for health care workers

Group will bring together unions, province, health care organizations

Four men in hospital after early morning Vancouver stabbing

A large group of men was seen fighting in Yaletwon

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Most Read

l -->