Where were all of the local elected officials?
That was one of the biggest questions at last night’s (Dec. 8) Drug Education: Fentanyl and the Effects on the Oceanside Community, held at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre. The event was put together by School District 69 (Qualicum), the District 69 Parents’ Advisory Committee, the Oceanside RCMP, Discovery Youth and Family Substance Use Services and Dr. Hugh Fletcher.
During a question-and-answer period, Fletcher, who represents physicians in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, asked the audience if anyone there was from the Parksville or Qualicum Beach councils or if anyone was running for office as an MLA in the next election.
When no one raised their hand, Fletcher said, “I think that probably answers my question.”
“It would be nice if everyone here wrote their incumbent MLA, and their future MLA and their councils and mayors and ask why they weren’t here,” Fletcher said.
More than 100 people, from as young as 12 years old, attended the two-hour information session that touched on topics such as bringing awareness, the rise in fentanyl-detected deaths since 2013, and what the public can do to help.
Opioids are medicines generally used to manage pain, which can be prescribed by a doctor, but those can be just as dangerous as using illicit drugs. Examples of opioids include oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and codeine.
Two other speakers at the event included Michelle Jansen and her son Nick, 19, who is in recovery after being addicted to fentanyl. On March 7, Michelle lost her other son, Brandon, to fentanyl and then five months later, Nick’s girlfriend, Gwynevere Staddon, to a fentanyl overdose in a Starbucks bathroom in Port Moody.
“It has hit my family twice,” said Michelle. “I had a decision to make. Either I was going to feel sorry for myself and wallow or I was going to try and help others and make some changes.”
Since then, Michelle has helped to create the Brandon Jansen Foundation to create awareness and help with resources for the fentanyl crisis.
Nick said he started using drugs not because anything bad happened to him as a child, but just because he enjoyed using.
“Like we all know, using fentanyl is like playing Russian roulette, you have no idea when you’re going to get the lethal dose,” Nick said.
Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for Island Health, said he knows the Parksville Qualicum Beach area has been affected.
“For the whole of the Qualicum school district area, about 400 individuals are struggling with problem drug use,” Hasselback said.
Of those 400 people, he said 150 people are regular injection users, including regular users of illicit drugs, and about 100 people are occasional users. Hasselback also said in the area there are about 3,000 cannabis users, which has also been known to be laced with fentanyl.
Fletcher said this particular crisis has been some time in the making.
“My metaphor is that if you had your head to the rail, you would have heard this train coming a long time ago,” Fletcher said, adding that people are trying to play catch-up, but not very successfully.
Hasselback said there is no one solution to fixing the opioid problem, but places to start include supervised consumption sites, opiate substitution, rehabilitation, enforcement, public awareness, school-based programs and naloxone (an overdose-reversing drug) on the streets.
Hasselback said in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area better information is needed.
“We know a little bit about some of the data in the Oceanside area, but we don’t have an awful lot that is Oceanside specific. What’s the same? What can we intervene on to make a difference?” Hasselback said.