Pubdate: Fri, 21 Oct 2016
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Times Colonist
Author: Sarah Petrescu
Page: A5


Drake Smith knew he was going to overdose.

He was in a bathroom downtown. His friends had told him to only do
half a hit, but if you only do half, he said, you can't get the same

So he did the whole thing. The heroin was laced with fentanyl, an
opioid up to 100 times stronger than heroin. It doesn't take much to
overdose. A dose the weight of a grain of sand can bring on a
heroin-like high. A dose the weight of two grains of sand can kill a
healthy adult.

"And it's a very strong euphoria," said the 22-year-old. "You just
feel really warm like a giant hug and everything gets slow. And then I
walked outside and I was like: 'This is really strong but I can handle
it.' I blacked out. Dropped. And when I opened my eyes, I woke up in
the hospital. It was like a minute of the most amazing high I ever
felt and then I was in the hospital."

There is no typical overdose story. Some people overdose in public
washrooms at social agencies - which is happening in greater numbers,
according to a University of Victoria study. Others overdose at home
or on the street. They are men and women, young and old. Many of them
die alone.

Advocates point to supervised consumption sites - which Victoria does
not have - as the first and most crucial resource. Many say addressing
the issue of overdoses starts with understanding users and how to keep
them safe.

Smith grew up in Victoria and recently moved back from the mainland
after months in jail and various rehab programs. He wanted to be
closer to family, especially his dying grandfather. He struggled with
depression and a brain injury and started injecting drugs by age 18.

At one point, he was using crystal meth and heroin every day and
overdosing at least once a week.

At first he didn't know the heroin had fentanyl in it. When he
realized it was stronger and cheaper, he sought it out, he said in an
interview at AIDS Vancouver Island on Johnson Street. The non-profit
organization is the community needle exchange and hub for
harm-reduction services.

"It's stronger, so I could buy less and I know it's not bunk if I see
people are going down on this stuff. … Honestly, when they mix the
batches you have no idea. Someone will buy a point [tenth of a gram]
and die off it and another person will do a three-point and be fine
from it," said Smith, a skateboarder who sports punk-rock tattoos,
piercings and patches, and likes reading about how the brain works.

"I've lost a lot of friends to not only heroin but stabbings and
violence, as well. You can't break down over everyone who dies because
there's a guy going down like every week," he said, adding that if it
wasn't for harm-reduction measures, he would be dead, "a thousand
times over dead."

He learned to use injectable drugs safely at AIDS Vancouver Island
after dirty needles left him with a heart infection and sepsis. He
also trained to administer naloxone and said he has saved friends and
strangers, including a young woman outside the former Central Care
Home on Johnson Street a few weeks ago.

But there are many more who were not saved.

Like Bria Rose Magnin-Forster, a 30-year-old Victoria woman who died
alone in a Vancouver shelter on May 2. Her parents described her as
highly creative, a talented writer and musician who needed better
support for mental-health and addictions issues.

In her obituary, they asked for donations to the Umbrella Society for
Addictions and Mental Health "in solidarity with all the families who
also lost someone to a fentanyl drug overdose."

Miranda Willson's parents had no idea she used drugs. They found her
dead in her room at the family home in Sooke on Boxing Day last year
from an apparent heroin overdose. Willson, 22, had a job at Canadian
Tire and raised money for the SPCA. Her parents pieced together
through friends that an abusive ex-boyfriend introduced her to heroin
a few months before.

Three days before Willson died, Debbie Porter, 49, was found dead on
her Langford living room floor. Her father, Fred Lang, said she was "a
beautiful woman with a generous spirit and a good heart," who
struggled with bipolar disorder and addictions.

Coroners' reports described other incidents, with the names

On Oct. 1, 2015, a 33-year-old Victoria man overdosed on heroin. He
did not know it was laced with fentanyl. That night, he was having a
coolers and vodka with a friend. She found him on the bathroom floor
with a syringe in the garbage and white powder on the counter. He was
breathing and making noises, so she got him a pillow and laid him
down, staying by his side. When he started bleeding from his nose, she
called 911.

He died a few minutes after arriving at the hospital.

Another man, in his early 30s, died from a fentanyl-related overdose a
few days after visiting the emergency room with a painful ear
infection. On Dec. 21, 2014, the man went to the hospital and left
with pain medication (not fentanyl) and a prescription for an
antibiotic. The next night, he was at home with a roommate who heard
him snoring but found him on the couch the next morning dead.

A 41-year-old Victoria man who died at his home on April 11, 2013, had
multiple health complications related to longtime drug use. He had
hepatitis C, heart issues and chronic sleep apnea, and was obese.
Prior to his death, his methadone maintenance program was replaced by
dilaudid - an opioid pain medication. Yet he died from a mix of
fentanyl and cocaine.

A 34-year-old Victoria woman who died at a friend's place after
consuming a mix of cocaine and fentanyl in 2013 "faced multiple
physical and emotional stressors and would self-medicate with drugs or
alcohol when she was unable to cope," said a coroner's report. She
went through heroin-addiction treatment and had prescriptions for at
least four medications relating to anxiety, depression and physical

"There is no typical user," said Katie Lacroix, chairwoman of the
board of the Victoria-based Society of Illicit Drug Users. "But the
large majority of the overdose deaths have been people in poverty."

Lacroix said many users face underlying issues such as a lack of
access to housing and appropriate medical services. She said as long
as illicit drugs and users are stigmatized as "bad" and not embraced
as community members, the health crisis will likely continue.

"If we had any other population of people dying in the hundreds within
half a year, people would be up in arms," said Lacroix, who is
advocating for supervised consumption sites in Victoria.

"Since when is any death that could have been prevented acceptable?
Just because someone uses drugs does not mean they are not part of the

Smith said he wants to focus on staying clean, rebuilding his
relationship with his family and maybe going back to school. He has
his own place in Esquimalt with roommates and recently started a
demolition job with others who are in addictions recovery.

"I really need to just have a good perspective change, be clean for a
bit and figure out what's going on," Smith said.

"But I know harm reduction and especially safe-injection sites would
save a lot of lives."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt