Despair. Hope. And more despair.
Just hours before a mother spoke about her son’s descent into addiction, new numbers from the BC Coroners Service confirmed that people in Abbotsford continue to perish from illicit drug overdoses at a startling rate.
The city saw six more illicit drug overdoses in March, and has seen 14 through just a quarter of the year, putting 2017 on pace to be deadlier than last year, when 39 people died from overdoses.
The figures come despite the declaration of a public health emergency last spring, initiatives meant to quickly relay information about bad drugs to users, and the opening of overdose prevention sites (at which no fatal overdoses have yet been recorded).
Dr. Andrew Larder, Fraser Health’s medical health officer, said this month’s numbers are in line with elevated figures seen across the province since November.
“We haven’t been able to stem the tide or push the numbers down,” he said. Still, Larder said without those actions taken by health officials and the province, even more people would likely have died.
Abbotsford Police and the Abbotsford school district have also sent letters and held forums to notify people about the risks of drug use. The latest was held Wednesday night at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.
The forum included speakers from Abbotsford Police and Fraser Health, but the most gripping words came from Dale Lynn, a mother who watched her son descend into the grips of addiction at the age of 19.
Dale Lynn told those attending how her son Kyle was a popular teenager who, after graduating, had a well-paying welding job at his grandpa’s business before he first tried Oxycontin at a party.
Immediately, she said Kyle felt a strong craving.
“He felt sick and he knew the pills would make him feel better,” she said. “It was just that simple for him.”
What began with his friends stealing pills from their parents eventually became late-night drug deals to obtain heroin.
“One night. One choice. Within a year, he was smoking heroin. Six months later, he was injecting it. He was just 19 years old.”
When Kyle’s mother found out about his use, she told him: “Honey, I don’t want you to die.”
He said: “Mom, I’m sorry, I can’t stop.’”
Within months, Kyle was homeless. He lived for years like that, losing all his possessions, 50 pounds, and friends and family.
And while he eventually sought help and got off heroin, his mother is realistic about what has been lost.
“You can’t undo the damage that has been done. He saw things no young man should see. He experienced things that are our worst nightmares.”
But at least, she said, he’s alive – unlike a growing number of opioid users.
“My Kyle, he’s the lucky one.”
“There were days, months, that turned into years that I worried I would get the call that my baby was gone, that he was dead. But he made it. Some of his friends didn’t. We buried another of his friends [who died] from an overdose just last month.”
Dale Lynn said she wished someone had told her what she was telling the audience Wednesday.
Kyle’s story is just one of several ways people end up addicted to opioids and dying from overdoses, coroners statistics suggest.
Some of those dying are homeless, but many others are not. Indeed, the majority of fatal overdoses occur within private homes, and Larder said health officials need to find a way to reach those people.
Cocaine has been detected in more illicit drug overdoses than even heroin. Police have said fentanyl – another deadly opioid – has been detected mixed with most illicit drugs, except for marijuana.
Death rates have spiked across the province, in the Lower Mainland, on Vancouver Island and in the Interior. And all age ranges are affected, with men aged 30-39 the demographic with the highest death rate.
One thing is certain: people continue to die at an alarming rate.
On Thursday at 8 a.m., 12 hours after Dale Lynn spoke about the dangers of drug use, emergency crews were called to a property on Madiera Place, off Clearbrook Road.
The body of a 30-year-old man had been found. All signs pointed to an overdose claiming another life.