Tabitha Montgomery with free materials she’s distributing to B.C. libraries. Francis Georgian / Postmedia News
It was during the International Overdose Awareness Day activities last year when Tabitha Montgomery really noticed it — events that had once been rallies had become vigils.
“There was a feeling that no one was listening. That it was not making a difference,” she recalled Saturday as she set up an information booth at the Vancouver Public Library.
Montgomery’s booth was one of several awareness activities happening in B.C. this weekend to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, a global movement designed to remember those who have died from drug overdoses. And to push for change.
However, some advocacy groups that organized activities in the past were noticeably absent from this year’s list of planned events.
Montgomery attributed that to burnout.
“It can be difficult to keep going,” she said. “I want to thank those who have been paving the path for so long.”
Montgomery’s father, her best friend and her daughter’s father all died from drugs. She believes the only way to end the overdose crisis is to remove the stigma and judgment around drug use and addiction and bring the issue fully into mainstream health care.
“This is a torch in my heart,” she said.
While she doesn’t represent any single group, the former director with From Grief to Action has had success asking B.C. libraries to display free books on grief and addiction in their community resources sections. She’s hoping to get the material into more libraries in the months ahead.
(Postmedia News photo by Francis Georgian)
In a statement, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy recognized those who have died are “parents, children, co-workers, neighbours, partners, friends and loved ones.”
The politician said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control estimates 4,700 deaths have been averted by scaled-up distribution of Naloxone, more overdose prevention sites and better access to medication-assisted treatment, known as opioid agonist treatment.
“We have a responsibility to each other, our communities and the loved ones we have lost to keep compassion, respect and understanding at the forefront of our minds — and to continue to escalate our response,” she said.
In June, 73 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses across the province, a 35 per cent drop from June 2018 when 113 people died, according to data collected by the B.C. Coroner’s Service.
But Montgomery said addiction is still treated like a “moral and criminal issue,” rather than a health issue.
“There’s so much misunderstanding,” she said.
Overdose awareness events were held around the world, including in many B.C. cities such as Vancouver, New Westminster, Kamloops, Kelowna, Powell River, Prince George and Quesnel.
In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Overdose Prevention Society supported the creation of a mural in the alley near its injection site. The project wrapped up with an art show.
Busy schedules, resistant bugs and, of course, the ‘ick’ factor.
B.C.’s lice busters say there are several reasons more parents are seeking professional help to deal with lice infestations — and as kids head back to school on Tuesday, they’re bracing for a busy month.
“By the end of September, we’ll likely see a few outbreaks,” said Rochelle Ivany, a Chilliwack nit picker who runs The Lice House with friend Ashley Wall. “Over the summer, kids have been off at camp, sleepovers and grandparents’ houses. When they come back to school, lice can come with them.”
Ivany entered the business when one of her kids came home with lice.
“I had no idea what to do,” she said. “Lice can be a taboo subject. No one wants to be the kid with it. Parents dread the letter coming home from school saying that there’s an outbreak in their kid’s class.”
After research and practice, Ivany set up shop in her home last year, offering people in the Fraser Valley an alternative to over-the-counter pesticides and hours of combing.
The key is to be “meticulous” while manually removing all lice and eggs with a special comb, she said.
Confidential sessions at The Lice House take between one-and-a-half to three hours depending on the severity of the infestation and the length of the client’s hair. Ivany charges $50 an hour — a lower rate than many of the services closer to Vancouver — and does comb-outs every three days until the client gets three clean comb-outs. She also provides treatment at cost for people who are referred to her through a social worker or community support worker.
“I get calls from a lot of panicked parents,” she said. “The message is that it’s OK, it’s going to be OK. We can help you.”
While it’s unclear if lice outbreaks are increasing — the B.C. Centre for Disease Control does not keep data on cases — more people are turning to professional lice removal services for help.
In Maple Ridge, Lice911 owner Barbara Pattison has been nit picking for 18 years.
“We’re the original,” she said. “When I started, there were four companies in North America.”
In the last decade, she’s expanded to provide mobile service in communities across Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island. In addition to Lice911, there are almost a dozen other companies offering treatment in B.C.
Pattison said lice seem to be more resistant to chemicals, which have become weaker in the last 10 years, while people may be too busy, or unwilling, to spend hours combing out bugs. In the last few years, she’s also seen a shift toward more teens and young adults arranging treatment for themselves, which she attributes to selfies and people putting their heads together to look at phones.
“All it takes is three seconds of hair-to-hair contact,” she said.
The lice expert advises parents to check their kids’ hair regularly for lice, looking for sticky black, brown or grey eggs half the size of a sesame seed attached to strands of hair. Some kids may have an itchy head or a rash at the nape of their neck.
“If you can catch it early, when there are 30 or 40 eggs, it’s much easier to deal with,” she said. “An average infestation is about 500 eggs.”
Growing up, Tessa Virtue faced no shortage of strong female role models.
“I was so lucky. I grew up with an incredibly strong grandmother, mother and sister,” Virtue says. “All three, independent, fierce, clever women who were hard workers, had goals and visions for themselves, and were really ambitious.”
“And, they didn’t apologize for those goals.”
The trio’s individual and combined influence left a Virtue with a sense of “limitless,” she recalls.
“I really believed that I could do or be anything,” she says with a smile.
While she didn’t pause to think much on it then, she’s now keenly aware of the fact that her inspirational upbringing, surrounded by a network of strong women who promoted the underlying message of “yes, you can!”, wasn’t always the case for other young girls.
“I didn’t realize that not everyone felt that way. That, not everyone felt that privilege,” she says.
The realization has been a contributing factor to the increased visibility of Virtue in media and advertisements in recent years — primarily those following the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics where she and ice-dancing partner Scott Moir stole the spotlight for their riveting routines — that allows fans and followers a glimpse into Virtue’s life that goes beyond her on-ice achievements.
“For whatever reasons, after the Pyeongchang games, there was a different awareness of both Scott and me … but it provided so many unique opportunities. And, hopefully I can have some kind of impact for young girls to look up to,” she says humbly. “I feel very privileged to be able to be considered any kind of role model.”
Her visibility on social media platforms such as Instagram, where she boasts a following of 364,000 and counting on her account @tessavirtue17, is one area where she works to constructively (and carefully) share her struggles and successes, in the hopes of leaving a positive impression on those who may happen to scroll by.
“I’m conscious of that. And I try to do that in a way that is authentic,” she says of fully realizing the scope of her role via social media and beyond. “I think, often, about how a nine-year-old girl would feel if she were to scroll through my Instagram. And, what messaging I’m sending, both objectively and subjectively. I think, ‘What kind of role model am I?’”
Focusing on the type of content she shares — positive messages and happy shots of herself attending events or with friends and family — has kept her somewhat safeguarded from the rampant online trolling that plagues many celebrities online. And, when she does face negativity, she doesn’t allow herself to get too caught up in it.
“You put yourself out there and I think there is always vulnerability with that,” she says. “Whether that’s standing at centre ice and waiting for the music to start, or posting something on social media for everyone to criticize, you just have to hope that the good outweighs the bad.”
Her ambition to present a positive role model to young girls and women led her to a recent collaboration with the Montreal-based fashion brand RW&CO. The campaign, which sees her featured alongside Canadian actress Karine Vanasse and First Nations activist Ashley Callingbull, the first Indigenous woman to be crowned Mrs. Universe, aims to promote “powerhouse” working women, in various stages of their careers.
“The campaign is so in line with my messaging and the things that I’m trying to accomplish now, outside of sport,” Virtue says. “And it’s something that I can relate too, also.”
Virtue hopes people pick up on the collaborative, supportive air of the campaign stars and feel empowered to introduce that outlook into their own lives.
“The culture now of this competition that’s ingrained in us, to pit women against other women, and this unrealistic standard that we’re all held to — all these issues are pervasive,” she says. “We can only be stronger for women when we support one another.”
Speaking on a hot, sunny day in July at a studio space in Montreal during a brief break in shooting images for the campaign (with her mom looking on in support), Virtue reflected on how, at 30 years old, she’s reached a point in her life where she’s “transitioning,” personally and professionally.
“And I’m looking to other women to support and uplift me,” she says of the changes. “So, I think it’s really neat that (RW&CO. is) putting together, really, a movement to incorporate so many things. And, they’re not just talking the talk.”
To mark the release, the retailer will be running a contest for Canadians to nominate an inspiring woman in their lives. The winner will receive a donation to the charity of her choice.
In addition to providing a visual representation of strong female role models, the partnership provided Virtue and her campaign co-stars with the opportunity to donate a portion of their fee to a cause of their choice. Callingbull directed her share toward a shelter for Indigenous women and children, while Vanasse chose a women’s shelter in Montreal.
Virtue, chose to promote another passionate platform, highlighting her efforts as an ambassador for the Canadian organization FitSpirit, which works to promote and support physical activity and athletics programs for young girls.
“It’s something that is so close to my heart,” she says of the role. “Obviously, I’ve reaped the benefits of sport and activity. But not many girls, as it turns out, even have the resources available to them to be physically active or to maintain that as they go through high school. So, FitSpirit is connecting with schools and giving that accessibility to young girls and youth at a time when they might otherwise drop out our prioritize other things.”
“It’s an opportunity to be active and connect with other girls — and to realize the power that those lessons and the sense of building self confidence and self worth that will carry forward for them.”
Recalling a recent visit to a school with FitSpirit where she met with young girls in the program, she recalls, with evident pleasure, sharing her enthusiasm for athletics with the girls — and how she took a little bit of something away from the visit for herself, too.
“They were so curious and it’s so obvious that they’re capable of taking over the world,” she says of the energetic assemblage of youths. Needless to say, it left her feeling inspired.
“When we realize the powerhouse of that sisterhood and the camaraderie among women — there’s no stopping us,” she says.
Flash fashion: Style talks with Tessa Virtue
Canadian Olympian Tessa Virtue may be known more for her on-ice moves than her off-ice style — but, these days, the 30-year-old athlete and ambassador is putting a lot more emphasis on what she wears.
“I lived in either sweatpants or athletic wear,” she says with a laugh of her go-to uniform during her training days. “I was really of two extremes, which plays to my personality as a bit of an extremist. I was either in full-on workout wear or black tie. So, I didn’t have that middle range.”
But, now, as she ventures confidently into her next career adventures that see her stepping away from amateur sport, she says she’s having fun exploring her personal style as she spends more time in the “corporate sphere” and much less time on the ice.
“It has definitely evolved over time,” she says of her fashion sense. “Now, I would say my personal style is pretty classic and refined — with a bit of a twist. I like to have a bit of an edge to every outfit.”
Virtue recently took time away from her busy schedule to dish four tidbits about her personal style. Here’s what she had to say:
On how she chooses her outfits: “I definitely dress based on my mood. I like accessorizing differently. Having classic, quality pieces and mixing in graphic tee, a headband, a pair of funky boots or a belt and changing the outfit entirely.”
On here greatest style influence: “My mom has always shopped for me. I’m so lucky that I have an in-house stylist.”
On her MVP (most valuable piece): “I love a good blazer. Whether it’s jeans, a T-shirt and a blazer, or a power suit, I think that would be my staple.”
On her most cherished item: “My grandmother’s necklace.”
Postmedia News was a guest of RW&CO. in Montreal. The brand neither reviewed nor approved this article.
Nyoka Campbell has been a Canadian citizen for more than a decade, but her ongoing struggle to secure a B.C. photo ID has left her feeling like an outsider.
The 29-year-old has spent much of her life on the move, immigrating to Canada from Jamaica when she was just a child. Now living in the Lower Mainland, she has two primary pieces of ID to her name: a Canadian passport and a B.C. services card without a photo.
The two cards would usually be enough for someone to qualify for a B.C. photo identification card. But a small discrepancy between her documents — her passport includes her middle initial, while her care card does not — has kept ICBC from issuing her a card.
ICBC is the provincial Crown corporation that insures cars and is also responsible for issuing B.C. ID cards.
“I feel like I am almost not a person because of the way they’ve treated me.” Campbell told CBC News from her Richmond home.
“I am Canadian, I am a citizen of the Province of British Columbia, and I feel that I am entitled to be able to identify myself,” she added.
ICBC confirmed with CBC News that the documents she’s provided are insufficient for a photo identification card.
“In this case, while we sympathize with Ms. Campbell, we’ve reviewed the provided documents and unfortunately, they do not meet the requirements,” spokesperson Lindsay Wilkins said in an e-mailed statement.
Campbell says she now needs to obtain a citizenship certificate in order to clear up her ID troubles, but she can’t afford it.
A prolonged dispute
Campbell moved to Vancouver in 2015. She says she was issued a provincial care card which by default did not include her middle initial.
“I didn’t choose the way my name was presented on the [services card], it was just generated by Health Insurance B.C.” said Campbell.
She doesn’t have her Jamaican birth certificate, and her Canadian citizenship card was stolen along with her wallet several years ago.
When she sought out a photo ID from ICBC in 2016 using what documents she had left, she was denied by staff. She claims her account has been red flagged by staff as potentially fraudulent due to the discrepancy between her passport and services card.
She’s kept pursuing the ID ever since, providing the insurance provider with mail, her SIN card, her son’s birth certificate and bank statements, but says it hasn’t swayed ICBC’s position.
“We do look at customer’s situations on a case-by-case basis, but it is more difficult in cases where there isn’t a verified photo record in our database,” said ICBC’s spokesperson.
The Canadian government no longer issues citizenship cards, but Campbell has been advised to apply for a citizenship certificate — a commemorative slip of paper that doesn’t qualify as identification but would confirm her citizenship. She could use it at the ICBC office. It can take up to five months before a certificate arrives.
However, the document requires a primary piece of photo ID. The only photo ID Campbell has — her passport — is now expired. She says doesn’t have sufficient documents to renew it.
And even if she could, Campbell, a single mother living off disability payments, says she would have trouble finding the money — about $200 in total — to retrieve both documents.
“I get about $1,500 per month … [my rent is] $1,248 plus my utilities, plus my insurance — and I also have my eight year old,” said Campbell.
She wonders just how long it will be before she has an official photo ID to her name — a circumstance she says is particularly troubling because it prevents her from boarding an airplane. Her grandmother, who lives in Ontario, is struggling with kidney failure.
“At any moment I could need to go to Ontario, but I’m not able to,” she said.
The ramp that zigzags across the steps at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver will not be modified to address accessibility concerns because of the “architectural significance of the site.”
Accessibility consultant Arnold Cheng says the ramp, which was designed in the 1970s by Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, is too steep to safely navigate in a wheelchair or while pushing a stroller.
Cheng says the ramp is also a tripping hazard for people with visual impairments because the stairs are all the same colour, which makes it difficult to determine where one step ends and the next one begins.
“A lot of people use architectural significance to justify not making any changes, but historically it has not been a problem for many, many buildings,” he said.
“The Louvre in Paris has more historical significance than Robson Square, but they have changed a lot of things over the years.”
Any changes to the design would have to be approved by the provincial government.
The province conducted accessibility audits of Robson Square in 2010 and 2018, both of which determined the stair ramps may be difficult for some people to use.
Despite the findings, the B.C. government will not alter the design.
“There are no plans to update the ramps and as such they should be primarily considered ornamental,” the Ministry of Citizens’ Services said in an emailed statement.
“Access to the building can be attained through a number of other means.”
The province says there is signage to direct people to more than 20 elevators that are located at Robson Square, but more signs and assistance for people with a variety of disabilities will soon be added to the site.
Cheng says he welcomes the changes but he doesn’t think they go far enough.
“The signage definitely has to be better,” Cheng said.
“For some reason, people think you automatically know where everything is.”
Erickson’s father lost both of his legs in the First World War.
Arthur Erickson Foundation director Simon Scott says accessibility was an issue that was always close to the architect’s heart.
“He wanted to make public spaces accessible and enjoyable,” Scott said.
“The steps here, which are part of this wonderful public space, have stairs and ramps so that everybody can enjoy it.”
J.P. Lorence (left), who is homeless, and Peter Vinccelli, who rents out the camper (at right) to homeless people in Vancouver. Arlen Redekop / PNG
J.P. Lorence never liked living indoors. For many years, he has flitted between homelessness and short-term housing. Most recently, he lived in an RV near Commercial Drive, borrowing water from a nearby park, saving money and spending his nights working on his writing.
“The hardest part was finding electricity, honestly,” he said.
Three months ago, Lorence’s vehicle was towed. Now, he and others at risk of homelessness are asking the city to let them remain in one of the few alternatives to living on the streets: their cars.
The Vancouver 2019 homeless count tallied a record 2,223 people who identified as homeless, including 1,609 with no fixed address.
Those numbers are likely an underestimation, and it is hard to know how many live in cars. But Lorence estimates well over 100 live in the area near Vernon Drive in Strathcona.
Not all are homeless. Some, like Peter Vincelli, hold full-time jobs, but live in RVs to save money in North America’s most expensive housing market.
“I think it should be illegal to charge people that amount of money to live in Vancouver,” said Vincelli. “I’m just waiting for the market to dip.”
Lorence calls Vincelli “the godfather” of the area. He is known to help fix up damaged campers, help people file insurance, or warn them about garbage accumulation, which tends to attract complaints and city workers.
He says for many of his neighbours on disability or pension payments, RVs are the only alternative to single-room occupancy units known for unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
In some cities, particularly in the United States, it is illegal to live in a vehicle. The City of Vancouver said in a statement that it is aware of the varied experiences of people living in cars and does not consider it an offence, although owners still have to obey parking regulations.
“Not all people parking and living in RVs are at risk of experiencing homelessness, nor do they all require support, but the city is committed to those who are and do require assistance,” the statement said.
The statement said vehicle owners are given at least two warnings before being towed. But Lorence says his towing caught him by surprise. He has since been forced to live in a shelter, which limits the hours he can work at night.
Lorence said he is running out of options in the city, and may look to relocate to Ontario once winter passes.
“I wouldn’t be there, except now I don’t have a choice,” he said.
Lorence acknowledges living in an RV, for most, isn’t ideal. Some of the other vehicle owners created problems in the neighbourhood by stealing electricity or accumulating garbage.
But he believes it is a better alternative to tenting on the street — a subject that has gained visibility and concern, especially as remaining residents of a tent city in Oppenheimer Park continue to disobey a park board eviction notice.
“Many of these residents are capable and gainfully employed,” he wrote in an essay published online. “Many are couples, many are just regular people attempting to escape the challenges of tenant life in Vancouver.”
Maya Bosdet says she’s excited for the beginning of classes next week because it means continuing a family tradition of attending high school at Claremont Secondary, in Saanich, B.C.
But a tour of the school this week has her concerned the building won’t be accessible enough to meet her needs as a wheelchair user.
A previous visit to the school revealed a lack of ramps and an unreliable elevator. Maya also says the door to the accessible bathroom is really heavy, while the lock and light are situated too high for her to reach.
Maya has a rare genetic disease called mucopolysaccharidosis, which causes sugar molecules cells to build up in her body. She has joint pain, a dislocated hip, and regularly sees specialists and undergoes surgery.
Lisa Bosdet, Maya’s mother, said the pair took a tour of the school in June and were disappointed to learn that the “archaic” elevator regularly breaks down, the desks are too high, and there aren’t any wheelchair ramps.
Bosdet said the elevator is currently being repaired, but is still concerned it will be unsafe.
“We expressed lots at that tour about what we saw [were issues],” she said. “I don’t want [Maya] to have to ask a friend to take her to the bathroom at 14 years old.
“I feel like it’s a basic human right for her to be able to use the bathroom.”
On a second tour of the school this week, the pair said they found not much had been improved for the start of the school year.
Bosdet said Maya’s therapists expressed concerns to the school staff about the lack of accessibility, but the response was that it would cost too much money.
CBC was not granted access to the school, and requests for interviews with school staff were declined.
Justina Loh, the executive director of the Disability Alliance B.C., says that was long before buildings were designed with accessible features.
“In the last few years accessibility has become more of a buzzword and more important … especially as our population ages,” Loh said.
‘Most of my friends are going to this school’
Maya said she doesn’t want to attend another high school because Claremont is close to her home.
“My dad went here,” she said. “Most of my friends are going to this school.”
She added that her friend, who also uses a wheelchair, attends the school with a caregiver who helps him move around and use the restroom.
Maya said she wants to maintain her independence.
Dave Eberwein, the superintendent for the Saanich School District, said while retrofitting an older building isn’t easy, “that doesn’t mean we don’t make them accessible. All of our schools are accessible.”
“Our goal is to, within reasonable amounts, accommodate all … students’ needs in each building,” he said, adding that things such as a light switch that’s too high, or a door that is too heavy, can be fixed relatively quickly.
He noted, however, that “sometimes it’s just not physically possible to install every accessibility [measure] in every building [because it’s] just not going to fall within our budget.”
‘We need to progress’
Bosdet said it seems accessibility issues often don’t take priority in a school’s budget, and the change needs to come from the higher ranks in the school district.
“It’s almost 2020, and I really believe we need to step up now … We need to progress,” she said.
She’s adamant that Maya will not attend another school.
“I resist changing a school because … the path I’d rather take is speak up and get them to make these changes so [my daughter] can have a choice.
B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal will hear the case of a pharmacist who claims restrictions on opioid replacement medication for working healthcare professionals is discriminatory — even though he’s been cleared to re-apply for his licence.
The 16-year pharmacist, who is not named or identified in any way by the tribunal, is now free to return to work following a second opinion from an addictions specialist. It’s unclear if he has applied to do so and he argues his screening process took too long.
The pharmacist argues there’s no scientific reason to restrict healthcare workers from using medications that curb drug cravings and withdrawal in order to aid addiction recovery.
The 16-year pharmacist, who is not named or identified in any way by the tribunal, was initially denied his license when he tried to return to work two years ago after a voluntary suspension due to an “addiction-related disability” that led to a $1,300-per-week heroin habit.
He wanted to use Suboxone — a medication that curbs opioid cravings — and be allowed to return to his job dealing with high-risk drugs. Doctors and nurses in many U.S. states and Quebec are permitted to take Suboxone, and in some cases methadone, while working.
Suboxone allowed him to live ‘a normal life’
According to an Aug. 22 tribunal decision, the pharmacist struggled with opioid addiction, including heroin, for several years, then returned to work. But he relapsed in 2015, despite a return-to-work plan that included monitoring. The pharmacist voluntarily suspended his license, returning to in-patient treatment.
He was prescribed Suboxone, a medication used to curb craving for opioids and ultimately taper opioid use, in 2016. The pharmacist reported Suboxone helped him live a normal life.
But when he attempted to return to work in 2017, the addictions specialist who evaluated him determined the pharmacist was not fit for duty in a “safety-sensitive” job — such as a clinical pharmacist who handled opioids — if he continued to take Suboxone.
The doctor also recommended he enter a 12-step program, faith-based treatment program that requires abstinence from all drugs. He objected because he is an atheist and claimed the drug-free rule wasn’t based on scientific evidence.
The pharmacist sought a second doctor’s assessment and the college eventually accepted new recommendations in August 2018 which allow him to submit an application to register as a full pharmacist.
The first doctor and the College of Pharmacists of B.C. then requested his human rights complaint be dismissed. But the tribunal ruled Aug. 22 that the hearing will proceed, in part.
‘Hurt and shocked’
In the pharmacist’s initial complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal he argued that he was discriminated against because he was referred to a religious-based treatment program when he’s an atheist, and he wasn’t allowed to return to work unless he stopped using medication needed for his disability.
That precondition prevented his return to work in a “reasonable time frame,” he argued.
The pharmacist said the first doctor who assessed him “demonstrated unfair and offensive stigma and stereotyping of people with addiction issues.”
He described feeling “hurt and shocked” when the assessing doctor asked if a return to work would make him feel “like being a kid in a candy store” since he would be near so many drugs.
Tribunal Member Emily Ohler said she read more than 1,300 page of submissions from all parties before determining a hearing was needed.
Ohler denied the pharmacist’s claim of discrimination based on religion, as the 12-step treatment program was not mandatory. She did order a hearing into the discrimination claim based on mental disability.
In her ruling Ohler cited an expert who confirmed past workplace addictions policies in this province restricted healthcare workers from using drugs like Suboxone, but said that practice needed more study.
In Quebec, doctors overcoming addiction can use methadone. An American study published by the Mayo Clinic in 2012 reported dozens of healthcare worker discipline programs permitting nurses and doctors to return to work while using similar addiction treatments.
It’s been three years since Valerie Wilson’s son suffered a brain injury following a drug overdose.
The Port Moody mother calls her son “fearless”. He was an ironworker by trade who taught himself how to ride a two-wheel bike as a toddler.
But the overdose affected his sense of balance, speech, and temperament, Wilson said, leaving him unable to pursue his former career and some of his favourite pastimes.
“He used to love high places. Now he has a fear of heights because he tends to fall over,” she said. “He lashes out at people but without the intent to be harmful — he’ll get incredibly angry about things that make no sense to be angry about.”
In the past year, B.C. has successfully brought overdose deaths down to the lowest level in years.
But medical experts and advocates say more needs to be done for survivors, who are sometimes left with brain damage that can worsen underlying addiction and substance use disorders.
Janelle Breese-Biagioni is a registered counsellor and the CEO of the Constable Gerald Breese Centre for Traumatic Life Losses, a charity she founded 30 years ago in memory of her late first husband, an RCMP officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury.
She said brain injuries, which can worsen the risk of substance use, depression or criminality, are an under-examined part of the overdose crisis that killed over 1,300 British Columbians last year.
“If we don’t include brain injury in this conversation, we will never have a 100-per-cent solution to the problem,” said Breese-Biagioni.
The province has said there were 446 fentanyl-related deaths between January and June of this year, compared to 1,334 for the entirety of 2018. This June saw the lowest monthly number of fentanyl-related deaths since September 2016, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.
But Dr. Delbert Dorscheid, a physician and researcher at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, said the number of people he sees with traumatic brain injuries has not been declining.
Fentanyl, the cause of the majority of illicit drug deaths in B.C., can interrupt blood and oxygen flow the brain.
He says provincial and federal governments do not track the prevalence of acquired brain injuries resulting from overdoses, the impacts of which range from mood swings to memory loss to paralysis.
“They’re not feel-good stories, and they’re not stories the politicians want to promote,” he said. “It’s making the whole topic so black and white, life and death. But in between there’s a lot of grey. We are just not acknowledging the grey.”
Dr. Perry Kendall, the co-interim executive director at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, speculates the number brain injuries caused by an overdose is “easily in the high hundreds.”
He says those impacted are often stigmatized for their substance use and may have had negative experiences in the health-care system, which he believes is partly why the issue hasn’t been addressed.
“Those who use drugs and are admitted to hospital often can’t wait to get out. They’re not having the best experience with health-care providers,” he said. “We kind of blame people for the symptoms of their illnesses.”
Breese-Biagioni said the impact of brain injuries can trap patients in a “vicious cycle” by worsening the symptoms of underlying mental health and substance use disorders.
She said current funding for counselling for affected persons only covers eight sessions, but she considers the minimum should be a full two years.
Debbie Dee, the executive director of the Powell River Brain Injury Society, has sponsored a motion at her town council to ask the Union of B.C. Municipalities to recommend adding brain injuries to the name and mandate of the provincial Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
She said it currently straddles so many ministries and mandates that action on it is almost impossible.
“Brain injury isn’t a mental health issue. It isn’t a substance use issue. It’s not an inclusion issue,” she said. “Where does it fit? It’s never fit anywhere.”
Dorscheid said improving relations with patients and securing research funding is key to understanding the problem and its extent.
“We would probably be able to reduce the burden of addictive disorders within our society if we found ways to treat people more compassionately and more completely,” he said.
Kendall believes the issue is part of a case for a non-toxic regulated drug supply, which he argues would greatly reduce the risk of overdoses in general.
But one problem Breese-Biagioni identified would not be solved by a safe supply — the situation of people already living with brain injuries, and their families.
Wilson is a member of Moms Stop the Harm, a national coalition of families impacted by the overdose crisis.
She supports implementing a safe drug supply, but says the grief she feels isn’t the same as other members of the group whose loved ones have passed away.
“They’re grieving the death of their children, and I still have mine,” she said. “I feel like a faker in some ways, right? It would be so much worse to lose him. But I still see him struggle. I do still have him, but I don’t.”
People in need of affordable rental housing in View Royal will have access to more than 150 new housing units following development of a new mixed-income housing project.
Located at 1938 West Park Lane near Thetis Lake, the West Park Lane development is a partnership between the governments of Canada and British Columbia, and the Capital Regional District (CRD), that will build 152 units in two six-storey wood-frame buildings.
Funded through the Regional Housing First Program, the project will provide a minimum of 44 affordable homes, 74 near-market-price homes and 34 shelter-rate homes rented at the provincial income assistance rate of $375 per month.
Building amenities will include laundry, a playground, bicycle storage, electric bike plug-ins and an electric car charger. The Capital Region Housing Corporation will operate the building.
Construction is expected to start in October 2019, with an anticipated opening date of September 2021.
The $90-million Regional Housing First Program is an equal partnership agreement between the federal government through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the B.C. government through BC Housing, and the CRD. The program was launched to create more affordable rental housing and address the needs of people experiencing homelessness in the capital region.
Jean-Yves Duclos, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and Minister Responsible for CMHC –
“West Park Lane’s innovative mixed-market approach and unique funding partnership brings all levels of government to the table. Through the National Housing Strategy, we are making historic investments in View Royal and across the country to help middle-class Canadians in communities hit hardest by housing challenges. Soon, people from all walks of life will have a safe and affordable home here, and I look forward to celebrating this project opening its doors in the near future.”
Mitzi Dean, MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin –
“Housing affordability affects all of us and, for too long, people in our community suffered as the previous government ignored B.C.’s housing crisis. We’re working hard every day through partnerships like this one to tackle that crisis and make sure more people in Greater Victoria, and throughout the province, have homes they can afford.”
Colin Plant, board chair, Capital Regional District –
“Housing affordability and availability is a critical issue and a key priority for the CRD and requires a strong, collaborative response. The Regional Housing First Program partnership is a shining example of working together with our federal and provincial partners to build affordable and accessible communities that benefit the people who need it most.”
David Screech, mayor, Town of View Royal –
“This project will go a long way to addressing the crucial shortage of affordable and market rental housing in View Royal. We thank our partners at the Capital Regional District, along with the Province and the federal government, for making it possible.”
The Regional Housing First Program is expected to create up to 2,000 rental units throughout the CRD.
20% of the units will be rented at provincial income assistance rates within projects that will also include at least 31% affordable rental units and up to 49% near-market rental units on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
This housing development brings the number of projects approved to date through the Regional Housing First Program to eight, which will create 907 units, including 211 shelter-rate units:
Langford – three projects (Millstream Ridge – 713 and 715 Treanor Ave., 830 Hockley Ave., 2763 Spencer Rd.): 382 units
Salt Spring Island – one project (Croftonbrook – 132 Corbett Rd.): 56 units
Sooke – two projects (6418 Sooke Rd., 2170 Charters Rd.): 245 units
Victoria – one project (Cedar Grove – 210 Gorge Rd. East): 72 units
View Royal – one project (1938 West Park Lane): 152 units
A map showing the location of all of the Regional Housing First Program sites announced to date, as well as other provincially funded housing projects in B.C., is online: https://www.bchousing.org/homes-for-BC
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