Monday October 30, 2017

After 5 overdose deaths in 9 hours, B.C. harm-reduction worker says 'nobody's safe'

Dozens of people mourn victims of Canada's overdose crisis at a vigil in Vancouver.

Dozens of people mourn victims of Canada's overdose crisis at a vigil in Vancouver. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

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Story transcript

Jolene Greyeyes has lost count of how many friends she's lost to the opioid crisis.

"I would say it's well over 100," Greyeyes, a harm-reduction worker and former addict, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Now she's waiting to find out whether she knew any of the five people who died over the course of nine hours on Friday in her hometown of Abbotsford, B.C.

"And if I don't, I know other people that most likely will know them," she said. "It's just a never-ending cycle."

Police in Abbotsford, about 70 kilometres east of Vancouver, said three of the victims were men and two were women. Four died inside apartment buildings and one was found outside a business.

"It's just devastating," Greyeyes said. "It's another five families impacted by this crisis happening in our city."

Jolene Greyeyes

Jolene Greyeyes is a harm-reduction worker and recovering addict from Abbotsford, B.C. (Jolene Greyeyes/Facebook )

They ranged in age from 40 to 67. All of them died alone — a detail Greyeyes says is not unusual.

"They don't have any connection to people," she said. "They just do what they need to do and, you know, they stick to themselves."

'I know the pain that they're going through. I know the pain that the families are going through.' - Jolene Greyeyes

Police said it will take time for toxicology testing to determine whether fentanyl or carfentanil contributed to the deaths.

In the first eight months of this year, 1,013 people died from a suspected illicit drug overdose in B.C., according to the BC Coroners Service. That's up from 922 in 2016. 

Overdoses killed 2,800 people in Canada in 2016, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

"We just need to keep educating people. They have to know the signs of an overdose and they have to have naloxone training and naloxone kits on hand and [know] not to use alone. Nobody's safe out there anymore," Greyeyes said.

"We need to really educate the public, even if they don't think that addiction is something they need to know about, because it's happening in communities right across British Columbia and it's not just isolated to people who are homeless or living on the streets. It's people from all walks of life who are being impacted."

Opioid Crisis Smuggling 20170226

A man walks past a mural by street artist Smokey D. about the fentanyl and opioid overdose crisis, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Greyeyes says working out in the community and being constantly reminded of the life she used to live helps her keep her own addiction under control. 

She hopes her recovery will give others something to strive for. 

"I just like to share my story as much as I can and offer the hope and show them that it's really possible to overcome this," she said.

"I would never give up on anybody in my community who is struggling with addiction. I know the pain that they're going through. I know the pain that the families are going through when they lose a loved one. You can't give up on these people."