British Columbia

Remembering Ian Harrington, 1 of 170 lives lost to B.C.'s overdose crisis last month

Ian Harrington was a 39-year-old ironworker who loved mixed martial arts and boxing. He was training to become a coach before he died of an overdose in May, one name among 170 in B.C.'s worst month yet of a years-long crisis.

Langford ironworker's sister calls for decriminalization and safe supply to address years-long emergency

Ian Harrington won this boxing match against the East Side Boxing Club in October 2016. (Submitted by Stephanie Harrington)

Ian Harrington was a 39-year-old ironworker who loved mixed martial arts and boxing. He was training to become a coach before he died of an overdose in May, one name among 170 in B.C.'s worst month yet of a years-long crisis.

As the province marks this grim milestone in a public health emergency that was declared four years ago, Harrington's family is calling for B.C. to finally take the actions recommended by experts.

"I personally believe that decriminalizing drugs is a first step in helping people get over the stigma of using drugs and the fear that they have of being thrown in jail or charged," Harrington's sister Stephanie told CBC.

"And I think we need to immediately find a way to give people access to a safe drug supply. It's not OK that we're just standing by watching people die."

Earlier this week, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry renewed her call for B.C. to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe urged the federal government to take decisive action on the overdose epidemic in the same way it has for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the three months since measures to address the novel coronavirus were implemented in B.C., a staggering 401 people have died from drug overdoses — more than twice as many as have died from COVID-19.

'He never told me he was struggling'

Like Ian Harrington, the majority of victims in this crisis have been men between the ages of 19 and 49.

Harrington was employed and had an apartment in Langford, B.C, on southern Vancouver Island, but he struggled with addiction and his sister says the restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 had a major impact on him.

"The pandemic hitting and the social isolation that was imposed because of it had a really big effect on my brother. He never told me he was struggling, but clearly he must have been," Stephanie Harrington said.

Ian Harrington and his sister Stephanie Harrington at the Women's World Rugby Sevens in Langford, B.C., last year. (Submitted by Stephanie Harrington)

The two siblings used to go for walks together on Sunday nights, but on May 3 he didn't return her messages. After he was found dead, a coroner found a mix of cocaine and fentanyl in his system.

"He was a really sensitive, caring person and he tried really hard to turn his life around and to get away from his drug problems. But unfortunately ... he didn't have the time," Stephanie Harrington said.

Keri Scarr and Mike Jorgensen, owners of Crusher Combat Sports in Langford, say Ian Harrington loved to stop by after a long, hard day at work to help out and coach kids.

"He was always at the gym," Jorgensen said. "He'd be here when I showed up and then he'd kick me out of the gym at the end of the night so he could clean the mats and I could go home and get a break. He was pretty amazing that way."

Stephanie Harrington with her brother Ian Harrington after a boxing match Ian fought in Langford at Western Speedway. (Submitted by Stephanie Harrington)

They both worry that losing access to the gym and the community there because of COVID-19 could have contributed to Harrington's death.

"The isolation and people being alone in their own thoughts and heads can be a problem sometimes, and it has been for a lot of people," Jorgensen said.

Those who knew him say Harrington hated the spotlight, but they don't want his death to go unnoticed.

"Every single person who's died in this crisis matters, but it's not something that's only touching a certain type of person. This is touching a lot of families," Stephanie Harrington said.

With files from Micki Cowan

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