British Columbia

Family breaks 3-year silence on son's overdose death in Vancouver

Cool as a cucumber, funny, kind, and brave are just some of the ways the family of Alex Robertson described the then 29-year-old before he died from a fentanyl overdose in February 2017.

'Doesn't anyone get it? Don't they understand how bad this situation is?'

Alex Robertson died from a fentanyl overdose in 2017. His family says it's time to break the silence. (Evan The Pirate)

With 147 overdose deaths recorded in B.C. in August 2020 alone, the family of one overdose victim from 2017 says it felt it was time to break its silence, if it can help save just one life and one family from the grief they now have to live with.

Then 29-year-old Alex Robertson died  in February 2017 from a fentanyl overdose in downtown Vancouver while on a business trip.

Now, three years later, his family has decided to speak out.

"I don't want other parents and other siblings to have to go through what we've been going through and still are going through obviously. If this gets out and it can help one family, that's why we're all here I think," Vicki Robertson, Alex's mother, said.

Alex Robertson's family speaks about his deah to CBC News from their home in Ontario. (Google Meets)

What happened

Cool as a cucumber, funny, kind, and brave are just some of the ways Alex Robertson's family describe the avid outdoorsman from Ontario.

"He'd give you the shirt off his back," Vicki Robertson said.

Alex Robertson had spent more than five years working for Vancouver's Brinkman and Associates Reforestation when he started developing an app to help the forest industry.

Alex Robertson's family describes him as a fun, outdoorsy guy who loved helping others. (Submitted)

"He was so ahead of his time. He worked as hard as anyone but he was always just flowing like water," Erik Brinkman, CAO of Brinkman and Associates Reforestation, said.

On a trip back from abroad to make a presentation for the app, his family said he overdosed on fentanyl in a café washroom in Vancouver and was rushed to hospital the afternoon of Jan. 29, 2017.  He died a week later on Feb. 5 in St. Paul's Hospital.

On that same day, B.C. Emergency Health Services said there were at least 20 potential overdose case in Vancouver that day.

"Doesn't anyone get it? Don't they understand how bad this situation is?," Vicki Robertson said.

Calls for change

The Robertson family said while the pandemic has arisen seemingly out of nowhere, the opioid crisis has not gone away.

"It can happen to anybody and people, you know, don't realize how easily it could happen to them ... It's such a widespread problem that most people aren't addressing unfortunately," Alex's sister Christine Robertson said.

According to BCEHS, over the last three months, paramedics in B.C. have responded to close to 7,500 overdose calls across the province. It says that's the highest number of calls ever recorded in a three month stretch, with about 75 overdose calls a day.

"Our government needs to step up and start to address the situation and maybe talk about decriminalizing drug use," Christine Robertson said.

"Legalizing it would be easier. It would be at least a substantive way to get a grip on regulating so these overdoses aren't just killing people left, right and centre," Brinkman, Alex's former employer, said. 

Alex's sister, Christine, said while it's impossible to say anything good came from the loss of her younger brother, it has started a conversation she wasn't having before. 

The Robertson family said while it may not be ready to start petitions or marches in the name of legalization, it hopes their voices will trigger conversations that are as open as they are about COVID-19.

"If we are looking to protect all members of our society equally, it's something that absolutely needs to be addressed because the problem is only getting worse and worse and worse ... in my opinion," Christine said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said B.C. Emergency Health Services received at least 20 overdose calls across B.C. in addition to the call for Alex Robertson on Jan. 29, 2017. In fact, EHS said they were potential overdose calls and they were in Vancouver.
    Sep 29, 2020 3:11 PM PT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zahra Premji

Host/Reporter

Zahra Premji is a host/reporter for CBC News Vancouver. She has worked as a host for CBC Alberta News in Edmonton, and a reporter in B.C. and Manitoba on various stories from racism to health and crime to asylum seekers and immigration. You can reach her at zahra.premji@cbc.ca

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