Mother of man who died of fentanyl overdose wants more addiction help in B.C.'s north

Theresa Simmonds is hoping her son's story can help get more support for people struggling with addiction in northern B.C.

'We don’t talk about the drugs and we don’t talk about what’s happening,' says Theresa Simmonds

Micheal Mulligan was 21 when he died of a fentanyl overdose last summer. (Theresa Simmonds)

Micheal Mulligan was just 21 when he died of a fentanyl overdose last summer.

Mulligan's mother, Theresa Simmonds, is now hoping his story can help get more support for people struggling with addiction in northern B.C. She spoke to her local council in Dawson Creek earlier this week, calling for more education and better services.

"We don't talk about the drugs and we don't talk about what's happening in our city especially with young people," Simmonds told CBC host of Radio West Sarah Penton.

British Columbia has been in a public health emergency since April 14, 2016. From January to July of this year, 876 people died of an illicit drug overdose across the province — up 81 per cent from the same time period of 2016.

"The numbers are just adding up incredibly fast and I think that this is definitely going to get worse before it gets better," Simmonds said.

"Who better to bring up this conversation and push for change than the families who are directly affected by this?"

'We felt really alone'

Simmonds described her son as a "fabulous kid" with a great sense of humour and a big heart.

"We had had that conversation with Micheal as he grew up about drugs and to be wary of it," Simmonds said. "You can have those conversations all you want but kids are experimenting."

In Micheal's case, she said, he went from experimenting with marijuana to inadvertently trying heroin at a party one night just before he turned 19.  

That's when the serious addiction arose, Simmonds said, and there didn't seem to be any support for him to help combat it.

"We really felt alone in this situation," she said.

The family moved Micheal to Edmonton in order to have better access to support services, she said.

"It's an awful feeling to have to have your child go away from home and go away from his family and, yet, we weren't helping either," she said. "It was a really hard decision."

Micheal Mulligan with his parents and younger sister. (Theresa Simmonds)

'It's a city problem'

One night last July, Simmonds received a call that her son had overdosed in Calgary. The toxicology report showed traces of fentanyl, she said.

"I know that in Dawson Creek, in the last little while, there have been a few families that have lost children to this drug and, again, it's a city problem that we are not talking about it," she said.

She called on the council to initiate a public education campaign about fentanyl overdoses and provide more services such as addiction clinics, housing and shelter for those struggling with addictions, and counselling services for families.   

"I feel like I was heard," Simmonds said. "Now I think it's just a matter of waiting to see if they go about doing that."

To hear the full interview, click on the audio below:

With files from Radio West