Pubdate: Fri, 09 Dec 2016
Source: Langley Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Langley Times
Series: Dying to get high
Author: Monique Tamminga


As a funeral director in Aldergrove, John Romeyn organizes three to
four funerals a month for families who have lost a loved one to fentanyl.

"A father I sat with a while ago, between sobs of grief, said to me,
'I promised to take my daughter shopping for an outfit to wear for her
graduation. . . . now I have to decide what she will wear in her casket.'

"I sit across the table from these families and they are heartbroken,
they have lost everything. I made a promise that I have to do
something," he said.

This crisis is something Romeyn knows a lot about as a former addict
who has lost friends to overdose deaths.

"This is personal for me," he said.

"I'm tired of arranging funerals for these young people."

"It's time to step up and take a proactive role. I owe it to the ones
out there suffering. I owe it to the families I served over the past
few years. I owe it to our community."

'They need to be shocked'

With help from like-minded friends, he has lined up a production
company which, along with police, fire, ambulance and coroner's
services, will create a "shocking video" about the potential end
result of fentanyl use, to be shown to high school students.

"I want to make sure the video is done before grad time," he

He has started a GoFundMe page to get financing to make the movie.
Already more than $5,000 has been donated.

He's also been working with local politicians and speaking with the
Langley School District, hoping to be able to bring his message and
spread awareness.

"I want to have a hearse outside the school and a casket inside the
gym, and say to the kids, 'don't let this be your last ride.'

"They need to be shocked, because this drug is taking lives at an
epidemic rate. This drug has killed more people than SARS did and yet
we don't treat it with the same urgency."

'Russian roulette'

Recently, his son, who is also an employee of the funeral home,
attended a party at a friend's house. A seven-year friendship was cut
short when his friend succumbed to a fentanyl overdose.

"My son and others attempted CPR to no avail."

Romeyn had to organize that funeral, too.

Recently, a pastor came in to arrange a funeral for his own son. The
young man was a first time user and died within five minutes of taking
a pill laced with fentanyl, said Romeyn.

"This epidemic isn't just impacting drug users, this is every walk of
life, every age, first time users, recreational users," he said.

"It doesn't matter if it's oxy, coke, heroin. Every time a person does
a drug they are playing Russian roulette with their lives. A small
amount of fentanyl, the equivalent of three grains of salt, cut into
another drug, can kill you."

He feels deeply lucky that he stopped using drugs before fentanyl hit
the streets.

"Four years ago, I would have taken that green pill and I'd be dead,"
he said referring to the green pill that caused 11 overdoses within an
hour on the Downtown Eastside recently.

"I was an addict for 25 years. I took up to 100 pills a day. Next
month I will celebrate four years clean and sober. Creating this
awareness campaign and reaching out to students is my therapy, my way
of giving back."

'You can't trust anything'

He has a daughter who is struggling with addiction.

"I'm terrified for her. She says to me she trusts her dealer.
Considering more than 80 per cent of drugs are now cut with fentanyl,
you can't trust anything."

But the reality is an addict will risk their lives for the next fix,
even knowing it could kill them, he said.

But there is hope, he stressed.

"If I can get clean, anyone can."

For Romeyn, it was his dedicated wife who stuck by him through his
years of addiction that made the difference.

"Four years ago, my wife drove me to recovery and said if I didn't go,
it was over. It took me making that choice to really get clean for her
and it's been an incredible four years. If you feel hopeless, don't.

"Being clean has been the best years of my life."

'Time to move forward'

Romeyn attended the fentanyl awareness forums in Maple Ridge and in
Langley, along with grieving mothers, police, an emergency room nurse
and the coroner.

"From that moment forward, I knew it was time to move forward with
this campaign. We need to make a difference," he said.

They hope to move this campaign into Langley and Aldergrove schools to
begin with in the New Year, and then follow through with all the
school districts. While drunk driving awareness campaigns reach
students each year, oddly no fentanyl awareness campaigns are
scheduled at schools, he points out.

The Langley School District did partner with other agencies to put on
the fentanyl awareness forum held in October. The school district said
addressing substance abuse is addressed in applicable grades.

Getting the message to young people is the key, said Romeyn. The
Fentanyl Awareness Facebook page they created in October has been
shared and seen in nine countries and almost every major city in
Canada, he said. Visit or go to the to learn more.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt