Antonette Rea speaks after attending a community meeting in Kitsilano where people learned how to respond to an overdose, in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday November 13, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Antonette Rea speaks after attending a community meeting in Kitsilano where people learned how to respond to an overdose, in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday November 13, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Stories from the overdose crisis’ front lines

Drug users and first responders share stories from the B.C. overdose crisis’ front lines

More than a month had passed before Antonette Rea found the note her young friend had written her before fatally overdosing earlier this year.

“Thank you so much for saving my life,” Rea reads aloud to a crowd of 80 people packed into a community hall in the tony Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano.

“I love your dancing and your singing and sorry for using all of your nail polish and art supplies,” she continues, prompting laughter from the otherwise silent audience. She smiles and puts down the note: “I called her Jilly Bean. Jilly.”

Related: Solving the drug overdose tragedy

Rea was one of more than a half-dozen drug users and first responders based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who shared their stories with residents living elsewhere in the city over the past six weeks as part of a series of overdose awareness and prevention workshops.

Monday evening’s gathering in Kitsilano was the last of six events aimed at delivering stories from the front line of British Columbia’s overdose epidemic.

Jackie Wong helped facilitate the program, which was organized by the Overdose Prevention Society and Megaphone Magazine, a monthly publication sold by homeless and low-income vendors.

It is important the overdose conversation happens beyond the Downtown Eastside, in neighbourhoods where drug use is not as public, Wong said.

“I think that that’s where the conversation needs to move, … to places where people might be overdosing in private residences or quieter places because of the stigma that still is associated with them as a drug user.”

Storytellers included people who survived the residential school system or various forms of violence and discrimination, those who experienced a traumatic childhood or worked in the sex trade.

Rea is a transgender poet and playwright who has struggled with drug addiction and once worked as a prostitute in the Downtown Eastside. She said there is a good chance her friend Jilly Bean would be alive if she had overdosed in the Downtown Eastside instead of in North Burnaby, thanks to the lack of overdose-prevention training and resources outside of Vancouver’s hardest-hit neighbourhood.

The hall was completely quiet as Samona Marsh spoke about the number of people she knows who have died from an overdose, including her feather in early 2017.

“If I had one wish or magical wand, I would bring back everyone’s friends and families who passed away and make fentanyl non-existent,” said Marsh, who has lived in the Downtown Eastside for the past 25 years.

She coined the term “fentanality” to refer to a fentanyl fatality.

Related: September least deadly month for drug overdose this year: coroner

The workshops also included a training session on how to respond to an overdose, delivered by the Overdose Prevention Society

Kitsilano resident Deborah Buchanan volunteered to be shown how to administer naloxone by filling a syringe and injecting it into the leg of a stuffed toy gorilla.

“I’m so happy I learned,” Buchanan said afterwards. “I need to know how to do this and help someone.

“My son was involved in drugs, my middle son, and it kind of tore me apart, because I always thought, ‘I’m going to see you die one day and I don’t want to see that.’ “

She said what she found most inspiring was hearing from the storytellers.

Frederick Williams, a responder with the overdose prevention group, led the training session.

He said it’s important that these events happen outside the Downtown Eastside because has turned into a city-wide epidemic.

“It’s very important to have it come out to places like Kitsilano, Shaughnessy, all these higher-end neighbourhoods,” he said in an interview following the presentation. ”They can’t put their head in the sand like an ostrich and think it’s going to go away, because it’s not.”

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Whiskey Creek gas station burned to the ground after camper van explosion

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van burst into flames just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding parnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Most Read