British Columbia

Mayor apologizes for spreading false story about teen dying from fentanyl-laced vape

The mom of a 22-year-old man who died from an opioid overdose speaks out after the mayor of Lions Bay, B.C., apologizes for spreading the untrue story that his son's "best friend" had died after taking a hit from fentanyl-laced vape liquid.

'You'd think even an amateur, small-town politician would know better than to repeat hearsay,' Karl Buhr wrote

The mayor of Lions Bay, B.C., says there is no truth to his previous comment that a student at a West Vancouver high school died after taking a single hit from a fentanyl-laced vape.

The mayor of Lions Bay, B.C., told a public meeting last month that his son's "best friend" had died after taking a single hit from fentanyl-laced vape liquid.

As it turns out, nothing about the story was true.

On Friday, Karl Buhr apologized to residents of the sleepy B.C. village for spreading a rumour that had no factual basis.

"You'd think even an amateur, small-town politician would know better than to repeat hearsay, because upon further inquiry, I find that nothing happened at Rockridge [Secondary School in West Vancouver]. There was never laced vape juice, and what likely did happen was elsewhere and for other causes," Buhr wrote in a "Village Update" posted online.

"I apologize to all affected by my incorrect statement."

Buhr has not said where he heard the rumour, and told CBC News he will not comment any further.

Mayor Karl Buhr declined to comment for this story. (Christer Waara/CBC)

But Leslie McBain, the mother of a young B.C. man who died of an opioid overdose, described the mayor's comments as "hugely irresponsible."

"To construct a story like this makes everybody look bad — certainly the mayor and certainly anyone who's walking around vaping — and makes kids mistrustful of authority," said McBain, co-founder of the harm reduction group Moms Stop the Harm and the family engagement lead for the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.

"Nothing good can come out of that."

Buhr had recounted the tragedy-that-never-was in a council strategy committee meeting on Jan. 23. The moment is captured in an audio recording released by the village.

"Let me just tell you a sad story," Buhr began. "My daughter, as you know, is 15. My son is 14. A kid who played on his soccer team and baseball team last year — his best friend — died yesterday after taking one hit from a vape that had fentanyl in it. Bought the juice, they call it, from a dealer at Rockridge. One hit, fell down dead in front of his friends."

Listen to Buhr's story to council:

He described the victim as a "nice kid, except he's dead now," and said the supposed incident should serve as a wake-up call.

Buhr's apology appears to link the false rumour to public speculation about the death of Kyle Losse, writing that the story he heard was an "urban myth, perhaps based on the tragedy in Delta."

Losse's stepmother told a Postmedia reporter that the 14-year-old was found unconscious in a bathroom with a nicotine vape beside him. However, the family has not raised concerns about opioids being a factor and no cause of death has been revealed.

Nonetheless, Buhr's apology transitions to a call to ban vaping on Lions Bay beaches. He writes, "I am too square to understand vaping's cachet, starting with the fairly ludicrous sight of users enveloped in a dense cloud of vapour while clutching a replica lightsabre."

Carl Miller and Leslie McBain's son, Jordan Miller, shown in the photo they are holding, died of an opioid overdose in 2014. (Health Canada)

McBain said it was unfortunate the mayor didn't use his apology to address some of the legitimate issues surrounding B.C.'s opioid crisis or offer support for vulnerable drug users

"He could have done something really good and effective, but he did not," she said.

False rumours about fentanyl and other opioids only serve to spread unnecessary fear, McBain said, but she's noticed they are usually quashed pretty quickly.

But one persistent piece of gossip keeps popping up — the idea that drug dealers are lacing marijuana with fentanyl without their buyers' knowledge.

"Every time I have heard one of these rumours, I've gone as far as I can to find out if it's true, and I have never found one that was actually confirmed," she said.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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