Fentanyl Crisis banner

People are dying in our streets. The fentanyl crisis has pushed our medical system to the breaking point and inaction by senior levels of government has left everyone scrambling to save lives. We stand with all those whose days are spent in our streets working to save the lives of some of the most marginalized and forgotten members of our society. 

Our country needs to hear from you. Your stories. Your experiences. Together, we must stand up to ensure that people get the support they need - from supervised injection facilities, to drug testing, outreach, counselling and treatment. We also must ensure our front-line members are supported, with the equipment, training and counselling to get them through this crisis.

Don't have a story to share, but want to connect with the campaign?

Click here.

Thank you to everyone who has written a story, or participated in an event.

Here's what we've learned so far.
Showing 16 reactions
  • S. McCoy
    commented 2024-04-08 20:30:07 -0700
    Your email address won’t let me send you an email
  • Ben Olsson
    commented 2018-11-27 23:13:31 -0800
    The following is a copy of the story I told my friends and family last year when my father died due to fentanyl overdose.

    Forewarning that the message below may be disturbing to some.

    I feel a strong need to share our grief.

    Counting my father, Frederick Harris Webster, as one of the overdose victims. “Rocky”, or “Rocket”, as he was known, was found alone on August 24th beside his bed in a rented room of a house in West Kelowna. The Coroner and RCMP informed us dad was found with a crack pipe in his hand, in a pool of blood. 😥

    Feeling a lot of emotions this week, after learning my 67 year old father died from a suspected drug overdose. Shock, confusion, sadness, anger, regret, despair. Dad struggled with his mental health, several head/brain injuries, grief and loss, and devastating addictions for most of his life.

    I spent three days in Kelowna gathering dad’s things, speaking with those who had contact with him, visiting the exact spot where he was found, and making arrangements through the funeral home.

    RIP dad

    January 18, 1950 – August 24, 2017

    Add to all that my own mental health and alcohol recovery is very fragile during this time. 💔

    Taking time at home now, to look after myself and my family.

  • Jennifer Hedican
    commented 2018-07-19 11:09:00 -0700
    We lost our oldest son, Ryan Hedican, to fentanyl posioning on April 24, 2017. We are heartbroken at his death and appalled at the lack of support he had available to him throughout his struggle with substance use when he needed help. We believe our Federal Government has to actively address this crisis with immediate action. Please sign our petition so the government hears loud and clear that this has to stop. Our goal is to have as many signatures as lives lost since 2016 due to Fentanyl Poisioning; that will be almost 10,000 deaths before the end of this year. Please sign and share our petition. (copy of paper petition found at bottom of this page)

    Thank you.

    Thank you BCGEU for campaigning for change.
  • Gordon O'Connor
    commented 2017-02-17 21:52:58 -0800
  • Erin G
    commented 2017-02-07 18:58:11 -0800
    I work just behind the front lines, so I haven’t responded to as many overdoses as my coworkers who, on average, have responded to more than one overdose per day throughout 2017 at my present work site.

    When overdoses happen, I usually try to stand with our clients, all of whom have lost at least one person close to them to overdoses. Many have friends, family, children, and grandchildren who are presently struggling with addiction, and any time someone goes down they think of that person.

    I don’t understand why those lives don’t matter just as much as the lives of anyone else. But that seems to be where my perspective differs from that of the average member of the public.

    I have witnessed my health authority – Island Health – be the slowest in the province to respond to the overdose crisis. I have witnessed police attending overdoses when we know that their attendance makes people less likely to report and more likely to die. I have witnessed requests for nursing staff be denied at hastily funded overdose prevention units which are better than nothing but nowhere near enough.

    I have also witnessed a barrage of hate, judgment, and pointless pedantic debate as fentanyl becomes part of the public dialogue.

    Overdoses are a medical event, not a moral one. Addiction is a public health issue which is best addressed by health professionals and the public affected by that issue – not politicians, city council, members of the public, or anyone else. Unless you are directly affected by the health care issue involved, I don’t believe your opinion should matter, especially when its obfuscating the issue at hand. I don’t get a say when a new dialysis ward is set up. Why do members of the public get a say when we provide services for people dealing with addiction?

    People are dying. We know how to save them. We must all continue fighting tooth and nail until the people in charge of delivering health care and social services are forced to do their job.
  • Justin S
    commented 2017-02-04 20:09:55 -0800
    ¬¬¬¬I am a front line worker presently working in Emergency Shelters. Before this job I volunteered in my community and peer supported for years. I learned about addiction and its complexities and oppressions through firsthand experience and the experiences of those I love and care about. Early on I realized that there are systemic injustices that influence dependencies and supports: this is particularly true when it comes to accessing services and finding assistance in times of need.

    This is what has created the crisis: Chronic underfunding and ignoring of the issue, policing those most marginalized, and the continual stigmatizing addiction.

    I have experienced, seen and observed how our culture demonizes those that struggle with addiction and mental health, often dodging responsibilities: opting instead for policing and imprisonment. We know that ignoring the issue, policing people, stigmatizing, criminalizing, and not funding agencies properly hasn’t worked so far.

    Make no mistake: We have been underfunding mental health and addictions for decades now. It has been a medical crisis for years that was being ignored.

    The health issues and deaths were documented under other names: heart failure, infection, diabetes, etc. without consideration for underlying issue of addiction.

    Fentanyl is bringing the OVERDOSE death to a heart wrenching new high. This is why we can’t ignore it. This is why it is a news headline. People have been suffering for years now in a province that does not prioritize the lives of those most marginalized (if you don’t think this is right please go research and compare B.C funding for the last decade to other provinces).

    The burden has always, first and foremost, fallen primarily on the shoulders of users to protect themselves and their community and stay alive. They do the work to inform one another about how to use safely, how to identify the drug you are using, teach each other how to use safely and witness one another in case anything happens. In our conversations about this issue, please keep this in mind. It is not workers who are suffering most: it is those struggling with addictions.

    Front line workers, outreach workers and peer supports have also taken on some of this burden. It is often those in the lowest paid most precarious employment and life circumstances that take on the brunt of the continual neglect and lack of support. I have seen and experienced this in my workplace.

    The atmosphere at my work continues to decline as more and more energy goes towards lifesaving interventions and the emotional and physical repercussions of continual use. Stress on clients and workers has increased and created a wholly unsafe space for everyone. There are times where I end my shift dumbfounded to the level of abuse everyone is experiencing due to lack of support on every level. Lack of funding, lack of workers present, lack of managerial support, lack of resources to direct folk to…it is disheartening to see how dire circumstances have become.

    We can’t expect harm reduction supplies, safe injection sites, or naloxone to be enough. We have to do better. We need to do better. That requires all systems and institutions to restructure themselves, enhance funding, expand their knowledge, support staff and clients more fully, and create new supports systems. We need more workers and we need these workers to be paid more for the onslaught of lifesaving interventions they are dealing with. We need better equipment and training to provide first aid. We have a lot of lost time to compensate for now: we need all these changes to be enacted quickly.

    The knowledge on how to help is out there already, written and talked about in far more articulate ways then I can achieve here. People living with addiction have spoken about what they need for years. Stop making people spend more emotional energy trying to get their voices heard. The information is there we just have to listen and take action.
  • Serina Zapf
    commented 2017-02-04 09:18:57 -0800
    I am a trans, mentally divergent white settler, survivor and past addict.

    I work as a casual employee with the Victoria Cool Aid Society Shelters program on occupied Lkwungen territory. Most of the time I work at Rock Bay Landing (RBL). I have worked on and off with Cool aid since 2014.

    For half a decade before being employed by the Cool Aid Society I worked (unpaid) with street involved community and past and present drug users to keep each other safe, advocate for Safe Consumption Sites (SCS), educate against stigma both in neighbourhoods and at service providers as well as work to stop the criminalization of poverty and addictions.

    At RBL we respond to opiod overdoses, among other emergencies, daily. In the first 5 days of November I had counted 11 Overdoses, which we responded to, most of which required the administration of naloxone and breaths. I cannot count how many ods I have responded to.

    I see that this page is about stopping the fentanyl crisis. This is absolutely important. That said, just because mainstream people are suddenly becoming aware that overdoses are a crisis only renders invisible the decades of tireless work by drug users and their allies to keep one another alive in the face of profound dehumanization. We have watched countless loved ones die because of the inaction of ALL levels of Government, from Federal down to agencies like VIHA. This response is long overdue and if anyone is to receive praise for SCS finally happening and for the loved ones still alive today it is not VIHA or Government it is the drug users and those who love and work alongside them.

    Let me begin with this:

    Addictions are a health issue. Period.

    And then, I suppose, I will elaborate, because this seems confused

    for many people:

    I care deeply for my friends and clients whose lives are in danger due to stigma, criminalization and lack of services. Notice I did not say that Fentanyl kills. I have brought countless people ‘back from the dead’ and literally breathed life back into them. People die because of the risk of police violence related to their addictions. People die because they live in social housing where they are forced to use alone. People die because they do not have safe homes to use in with friends and have to be outside. People die because health services treat addicts different than patients with clogged arteries, or those with injuries from car accidents. People die because funding goes to Policing instead of providing training to social and health supports. People die because those not impacted by the structural violence’s of poverty and all of the intersections that run through it get to make decisions for the people who are living through addictions while living in extreme poverty. People die because we do not see ourselves responsible for extreme poverty and rationalize our own comfortable lives lived on the backs of others by the grace of our privileges (whiteness, able bodiedness, lack of mental health issues, childghoods free form abuse, living on stolen land, being cis gendered… etc.).

    The crisis is more complex than a chemical.

    Direction on how to keep people with addictions safe needs to come from the experts, the people who live with addictions and have lived with addictions. People who are trained and experienced in working with and for people with addictions need to be provided the necessary resources to continue the work of saving lives alongside people with addictions. The AIDS crisis taught us that peer led support and fighting stigma saves lives. We learned this lesson already, so let’s draw on that. People fought for their lives to stop the AIDS crisis we need to honour that.

    We, as BCGEU workers, do need support so that we can support our clients.

    And, I am traumatized, burnt out and exhausted.

    I find most of my trauma comes from the lack of support I receive. My coworkers and I have asked for better training. We have asked for adequate equipment. We have asked for more staff. We have asked for emotional supports, debriefing with our teams and management. We have asked for at least having the bare minimum of staff on shift with us. We have received very little of the supports we have asked for. The people with the power to shift this run right from our Management, VIHA, City Council, Provincial Government and Federal Government.

    I am traumatized because I have to speak to nurses on the phone who, literally, tell me my clients lives are not worth their time and sound surprised when I address there bigotry. I am traumatized because I have to stand and watch 8 police officers kick the shit out of a client on his knees saying, “I am not resisting,” when we make a non-emerge mental health call to the police and then watch City Council increase the Police Budget by $204, 000. I am traumatized because I have to step in when paramedics call my clients idiots after an overdose and they refuse to listen to other clients asking them to stop being so disrespectful. I am traumatized because I have to constantly advocate to my management and higher levels of authority that my clients are worth it and I am worth it. I am traumatized because the majority of the public seems to think it is okay for addicts to die.

    I am not traumatized because I respond to the medical emergencies of my clients. I experience trauma because of all the violences, that we do not name as violence that surrounds seeing my clients as human beings worthy of love and resources and health care.

    Addictions and overdoses are health issues.

    I need better training. I need compassionate first responders, nurses and doctors who do not judge people based on their mental health, poverty, addictions and social location. Police do not make me or my clients safe. I need proper equipment. And me and my coworkers need the time and resources to talk with each other, debrief, process what is happening and learn from one another. We need time together when not having to be responding to crisis.
  • Jodie McKinney
  • Sara Davidson
    commented 2017-01-08 09:41:47 -0800
    To whom it may concern,

    I am a member of the BCGEU and have worked as a frontline resident support worker for more than 5 years. The organization where I work (VCAS), houses folks who struggle with serious mental health and addiction issues. Without organizations like ours, many of these people would be without housing.

    As far as the fentanyl crisis goes; I worked the night shift downtown Victoria for several years. I personally have responded to about a dozen overdoses over the years. Most occurred while working alone. There are two things I would like to relay regarding overdoses:

    1) Support workers are not paramedics and often work alone.

    2) There is an emotional response when dealing with a crisis that has a lasting effect.

    A few of the buildings where I work at have 45+ residents. I work alone.

    At times, these buildings have been infiltrated and tagged by gang members. It has lent a space for heavy drug traffic, including individuals who are in and out of the building all night long. Many of these individuals are armed and dangerous. I work alone.

    Building rounds are a part of our shift and I have found folks unconscious in the basement, laundry room, stairwells and hallways during my rounds. I work alone.

    I have been called to respond to flooding in the middle of the night. A resident alerted me that water was coming through his ceiling. Heart racing, I ran upstairs to pound on another resident’s door, a regular occurrence. I called another building for back up and waited for my co-worker to arrive before entering the unit. Upon opening the door, we found her passed out in her shower, her apartment flooded, paraphernalia on her floor and counters and a banned guest asleep on her bed.

    While we do have first aid training, I mentioned that we are not paramedics because paramedics respond to these incidents in pairs. I work alone.

    Never knowing when an incident will occur is a challenging part of the job. While we monitor activity and behaviours, it’s still impossible to predict when things will go sideways. The building can be quiet for hours and then all of a sudden, we are called into an emergency situation; life or death. At times we are called to find an individual who has deceased.

    My job does not always require a heart pounding, adrenalin rushing, crisis-responding act. It is so many things, from supporting, advocating, liaising, strategizing, helping, listening and meeting with both clients and staff. I couldn’t imagine going back to a job that didn’t involve advocating for the vulnerable, de-escalating or crisis intervention after being in this line of work. With all of that being said, the effect of overdoses on both the individuals who are using and the front line workers who are responding to the inevitable is reaching far beyond the frontlines. It is affecting friends and families of clients and staff across multiple organizations within our communities.

    When an individual overdoses they’re vulnerable and often ready to get into treatment immediately afterwards. Unfortunately our treatment facilities are seriously lacking. I believe if folks could go to treatment immediately following an overdose, the probability of being successful may be higher than overdosing, returning home and doing it all over again. The definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing, expecting different results. Being on the frontlines and watching the perpetual nature of addiction is not for everyone.

    Keeping our high profile or folks with multiple barriers housed, saves our communities money. The funding for more support staff feels crucial if we want to keep these folks housed and as stable as possible. Further, we need more SUPPORT for STAFF.

    We are the ones who have a front row seat to the overdose crisis and its inevitable death toll.
  • Al Black
    commented 2017-01-07 11:17:55 -0800
    I work at Swift House apartments for the Victoria Cool Aid Society, for whom I have worked since 1989. Recently, I dealt with a someone who had an overdose from fentanyl. Swift House houses mentally ill substance abusers coming off the street. It is Cool Aid’s largest building, and we work alone. I have not been trained in the use of naloxone but I am signed up for training in late January. I have dealt with many similar incidents over the years. Also in December, a man who had threatened to kill me at work fatally stabbed someone a few blocks away. In the past, we had an organized team, properly trained in critical incident debriefing, who could come help. What we have now is a contracted crisis line which my co workers and myself have found to be dehumanizing and disrespectful. It is my feeling our employer should be doing much better for front line workers who feel under siege during this crisis. Years ago after a major violent incident at work, Cool Aid paid for me to see a psychotherapist, which I believe was incredibly positive for my well being: because of this, I don’t believe I carry any baggage from that event. Another change that I feel greatly degrades my and co workers’ ability to look after our mental health is that, since April, we are no longer permitted to take breaks during our 12 hour shifts. My coordinator kindly allows one break out of the building for a short time although he does not have to do this. This change has caused worker morale to plummet. I had to give up my dog as I can’t let her out for pee breaks. It is hard enough to work in some of these dangerous and stressful settings, but not being able to get fresh air and exercise feels like punishment. It is my hope that in the next round of negotiations this no outside break rule could be looked at.
  • Jodie McKinney
    commented 2017-01-04 14:53:47 -0800
    I actually believe the government is working hard on the Opioid crisis. I work in Harm reduction and I find this type of messaging not helpful. Government has been working very hard to get supervised injection sites up and running and more beds open in treatment. There have also been TV/print campaigns and social media advising people not to use alone and contact with staff to answer questions.

    A Ministerial order was passed in 1 day to get access to supervised consumption sites. Amazing turn around! Also the Naloxone team is working hard to get supplies out there. RCMP officers now are equipped with Intranasal Naloxone and Injectable kits are being handed out across the province. More and more kits are being stocked in public areas. All work of the Joint Task Force which is Min of Health, the Prov Health Officer and other Ministries. BC just attending the Opioid Summit in Ottawa in November and is considered one of the leaders in the overdose crisis. More effort is needed but we cant blame the government every time there is public health epidemic.
  • Richard Schaeffer
    commented 2016-12-31 11:09:02 -0800
    We have had above average contact with the fentanyl crisis. We have had addicts who use our washrooms for showering and to use, it is not uncommon for staff to enter and find feces and blood in the washrooms. They have now been instructed at all our campuses, to not enter or touch anything to call cleaning staff and have them clean it up. They have also been told when they come accross a person who is not responsive to call 911 and let them deal with the issue and go back to work?
  • Billy Smith
    commented 2016-12-29 12:43:46 -0800
    Hello to all that may be interested in the tragic crisis related to the fentanyl drug. I work in the front lines of a not for profit organization in the downtown eastside. Where daily I am faced with overdoses and death. The amount of emotional and mental stress related to this crises for us front line workers is overwhelming to say the least. Many of us are not equipped with the education or training required to deal with the fentanyl problem. And at the end of the day it is very difficult to go home and leave that part of our work, at work. This crisis has not just pushed our medical system, ambulance attendants, and front line workers to the limits. The epidemic is creating family problems for both those affected by the drug. As well as the families of the front line workers. I personally am faced with a fentanyl related overdose or death at least three times a week in the alley where I work. And it has pushed me personally to a point where emotions are very easily triggered as a result of being exposed to the fentanyl overdoses and death’s so frequently. Our communities need help to deal with this. And more important how do I as a frontline worker start to deal with seeing those in the downtown Eastside that have become associates, friends, and common faces lying in the alleys suffering from overdoses or death. It is definitely the toughest situation I have experienced personally. And some days I would rather call in sick than chance finding another body at my back door.
  • Francesca Burgon
    commented 2016-12-28 09:06:17 -0800
    I work in Mental Health and Addictions in the Kootenay’s. The last 3 years have been at an ER diversion facility with a specialty in withdrawal management. I am now working with MH Outreach in the community.

    We’ve lost so many people this year. Folk who were trying so hard to get free of this opioid. The withdrawal is horrific – more painful than heroin from what I’ve seen. It lasts for ages. We’re lucky if anyone stays longer than a few days at the facility, given what they are going through. They cry, shake, their bodies go into deep spasms that just don’t stop. They hit themselves, trying to divert the pain to places more manageable than their joints. And it doesn’t let up unless they are sedated heavily. We first started seeing this sort of highly painful and emotionally difficult withdrawal a few years ago.

    Fentanyl is getting into everything that is available on the streets. And it’s dirty, so very, very dirty. ‘Green Beans’ are readily available, and who knows what is in them. Tox screens come back with substances that the individual swears they haven’t been taking. So we’re also scrambling to even start to get the right support in place to help. The dealers don’t care. For every person who dies, there are 10 waiting to start buying.

    Now that I am working out on the streets, I am acutely aware that at any time I will visit someone and walk into a situation where there is an overdose in progress. I hear constantly about people I have worked with who have overdosed and died.

    For me, there is no giving up and backing down. My team works hard to get people to the right supports, and the right medications to fill those receptors. I’m lucky to work with awesome people who are as passionate about helping others as I am.
  • Rod Mabee
    commented 2016-12-27 11:41:31 -0800

    I am a retired BCGEU health worker . Still working p.t. , in Oct my brother died in a DTES hotel just a block away from where I work for NHS a nonprofit housing society. To make a long story shory I am still waiting to hear from the coroner about his cause of death. They are overloaded too. So I can’t even tell if he was poisoned or not by fentanyl . Blaming the government will not bring him back to us.

    In your list of things we need to do about fentanyl you let out enforced. Bootlegging is what is killing people . If fentanyl was in the beer or whiskey would call for more. Alcohol treatment? I don’t have all the answers mostly just more questions. Like what actually killed my brother?
  • Christina Petrina
    commented 2016-12-27 11:35:09 -0800
    My name is Christina and I’m an addict in my 8th year of Recovery. I work at the shelters at Salvation Army Harbour Light. I’m a front line worker and am most grateful to be on the solution side of addiction. For me this crisis is VERY much like the AIDS epidemic. Blame pointed at the victim for what is perceived as to be their own doing. Until we decriminalize addiction this will always be the view. Educating the public about addiction and removing the stigma needs to happen. Narcon is a saving grace but definitely NOT the solution. Accessible government funded beds would really help. Myself I am doing a music video to bring awareness and hopefully a more compassionate and proper understanding for these people who have been invisible to the general public. Thank you for asking for our thoughts. It means a whole lot and here’s to working together to overcome this epidemic. Thank you Christina Petrina