'It is a really isolating feeling': U of R student writes article about losing sister to drug overdose

Taylor Balfour had to push aside grief for a story she published recently about losing her sister, Rachel, to a drug overdose.

'Her life was worth more than a good second of gossip,' says sister

Taylor Balfour, left, and her sister Rachel, who died of a fentanyl-related drug overdose on Feb. 2, 2019, alone in her dorm room while attending university in Edmonton. (Submitted by Taylor Balfour)

Taylor Balfour had to push aside grief for a story she published recently in The Carillon, a student newspaper at the University of Regina.

Balfour is an opinion editor at the paper who recently penned "On Losing My Younger Sister," in which she described the nightmare of losing her sister Rachel. Her aim was to fight the stigma and isolation of losing someone to an overdose death, and encourage others to speak openly about drug policies in an effort to save lives.

"She was very outspoken. She always told it like how it was," Balfour said of Rachel. "There was never a filter with her, and I want people to remember her spunk. You'd talk to her and you would leave the room beaming. She just brought this energy with her everywhere."

Rachel died of an overdose a little more than a year ago after taking drugs laced with fentanyl, a powerful and dangerous opioid.

"It was devastating," recalled Balfour.

Equally painful, for Balfour, was the fact that her sister's death became the subject of gossip around the university. She said people viewed her sister differently, because of the drugs, and it tarnished her reputation.

"Her life was worth more than a good second of gossip," said Balfour.

Balfour wrote: 

"Rachel was a straight-A student, a tech whiz; a woman who loved Slurpees, leather jackets, and animation. She loved coffee, and bagels, and late-night trips to Denny's. She wanted to animate, but was pursuing her dream of a computer science degree.

"None of that mattered when people learned she died because of drugs. Then, the stigma took hold, and the view of the beautiful, driven, talented woman was tarnished with the stereotypes of a 'druggie' with people refusing to look further into it."

The gossip and the awkward silence from people who had no idea how to soothe Balfour's profound grief helped fuel a desire in her and her parents to begin speaking out.

"It is a really isolating feeling, when you are going through this very lonely period of grief," said Balfour.

"It felt like we need to do something about this, and if I can use her story of this smart, driven, talented young woman and say that she died due to drugs hopefully that could slash a bit of the stigma and change the view."

Balfour said it was that anger and sadness that helped her find the strength to write the article, and to begin speaking openly about progressive drug policies.

"I think that the first thing that we need to do is discuss more safe injection sites," said Balfour.

"My personal view is that the way that we'll be able to make the biggest change is by legalizing a lot of these drugs to be able to regulate them, because the problem is that these drugs are laced with poisons that will kill people."

Sharing so much pain, and publicly fighting to save other people's lives by preventing drug overdoses is a lot for a young person trying to get through university, but Balfour said she no longer walks alone.

"It feels like now everything that I do I look through with not necessarily a veil of grief. Now it's a veil of her. What would she think? What would her advice be?"


  • A previous version of this story stated Rachel Balfour overdosed while attending a university in Regina. In fact, it was a university in Edmonton.
    Feb 11, 2020 9:52 AM CT