Remembering Bria: Victoria woman dies from fentanyl overdose

The family of a young Victoria woman chose to reveal in her obituary that her death was caused by a fentanyl overdose in order to help raise awareness of the crisis' human toll.

Health officials to meet in Vancouver next week to assess response to overdose crisis that has gripped B.C.

Bria Magnin-Forster, 30, died from a fentanyal overdose in early May after struggling with mental health and addiction issues for more than a decade. (Fernand Magnin)

After trying to help his daughter break free from a drug addiction for more than a decade, Fernand Magnin says he had to prepare for the possibility he would one day lose her.

But it didn't make it any easier.

His daughter, Bria Magnin-Forster, 30, died from a fentanyl overdose in early May.

She was using alone in a bathroom at a shelter in Vancouver at the time, the Victoria father says.

"In the end, it was the police at the door at 5 a.m. telling you that she had died from an overdose the night before."

More than 250 people in B.C. died from drug overdoses in the first four months of the year. The death toll is nearly double what was reported during the same time period last year.

In April, shortly before Bria died, B.C. took the unprecedented step of declaring a public health emergency over the rise in drug overdoses.

Bria's family chose to share in her obituary notice that her death was caused by a fentanyl overdose to help raise awareness about the human toll of the crisis.

"We felt that there are too many families that are being impacted by overdoses," Magnin says.

"We see very few obituaries, if any, where people talk about the fact that the person died from a drug addiction."

Few warning signs

Magnin says there were few warning signs that his bright, creative child would fall into a life of addiction.

She did well in school. She was a talented musician and excelled at writing.

"We never had any particular incident or troubles during her childhood," he said.

But in her teenaged years, Bria dealt with an eating disorder. Issues with anxiety followed, her father says. 

By 2005, the family realized she was using drugs. It was crystal meth at first, Magnin believes.

"From then on it was really a kind of ongoing struggle for many, many years."

This recent photo is the last shot Fernand Magnin has with his daughter, Bria Magnin-Forster. She died from a fentanyl overdose in early May. (Fernand Magnin )

There was hope after Bria hit a new low in 2010 and was hospitalized for several months.

Following treatment, Magnin says she was placed in a Victoria group home where she found the right support and managed to stay clean.

But he says the space was soon needed for someone else and Bria moved to her own apartment.

"It was a critical moment. She was not ready to be on her own," he said. "To be left on your own to pull your life back together; it just wasn't enough for her."

When things fell apart again, Bria returned to the streets. That was followed by a stay in jail.

Upon her release in January, Magnin says there was a spot in a treatment program in the Lower Mainland.

But there was no legal requirement that kept her there, he says. The family later found out she left the three month program after three days.

On May 2, she was found dead from an overdose. Bria Magnin-Forster was 30 years old.

No easy answers

On June 9, addiction experts, drug users, health officials and police will meet in Vancouver to examine the response to B.C.'s overdose crisis and determine next steps.

As Magnin grieves the loss of his daughter, he is also reflecting on what some of those steps should be.

He supports making supervised drug consumption services widely available as an immediate safety measure but hopes solutions will address more than just preventing overdose deaths.

Magnin is calling for stronger mental health services and better communication with families of addicts as they navigate the system.

He says he was often in the dark about his daughter's treatment because of confidentiality requirements.

Fernand Magnin says there were few signs his bright, creative, generous child would later struggle with mental health and addictions. (Fernand Magnin)

He would also like to see more of a focus on addressing illicit drug use as a mental health issue rather than as a crime and less emphasis on providing those services in the community, rather than structured facilities.

"It's not locking up everybody. It's providing enough support that they will be able to function and move in the right direction," Magnin said.

"It is a very tricky path to follow, but we just know that what has been done up until now has not worked."

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