As It Happens

Remembering 'Little' Doug Nickerson, the man who saved nearly 150 overdose victims

Armed with only a bicycle and a nalaxone kit, Doug Nickerson kept watch over of the people of the Surrey strip until he died of pancreatic cancer.
Doug Nickerson saved 148 overdose victims by administering naloxone. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

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"Little" Doug Nickerson, armed with only a bicycle and naloxone kit, kept watch over of the people of the so-called Surrey strip until he was too sick to go out anymore.

He spent his days biking the two-block stretch along 135 A Street in Surrey, B.C., where drug use and homelessness are rampant. It's believed he saved approximately 148 lives by administering the opioid-blocking medication naloxone to overdose victims. 

Nickerson died Friday from pancreatic cancer, two days after he was awarded the Heart of the City Award for his efforts.

His longtime friend Ron Moloughney, president of the Surrey Area Network of Substance Users, spoke with As It Happens Carol Off about Nickerson.

Here is part of that conversation.

How are people in community reacting since they learned of his death?

People are shaken up. You know, we've lost an integral part of our community. He saved at least 150 lives and that's going to put a big burden back onto the front-line staff.

Nobody else cared about these street-entrenched people. You know, they were just an obstacle to walk over and he didn't see it that way. He seen them as human beings.-  Ron Moloughney,  Surrey Area Network of Substance Users

Can you tell us how he went about saving all those lives?

Everyone knew Doug, that, if you had a problem with the drugs you were doing, that he'd be there for you.

How was he able to get there when others weren't?

He'd stay down on the strip on welfare week and he'd stay there for a week at a time and make sure people knew that he had kits all the time with him, that he was there to help them.

After that, he'd go back every two or three days and check up on people, make sure they were OK, talk to them, counsel them.

Why did he do that? Did you ever ask him why he dedicated so much of his time to helping others?

Because nobody else was. Nobody else cared about these street-entrenched people. You know, they were just an obstacle to walk over and he didn't see it that way. He seen them as human beings. 

The rent in Vancouver, you know, it's very difficult to get a place on social assistance and a lot of them end up on the street. He cared about people in general. He didn't care about what they did, who they were, who their family was. He cared. He brought them into his life too and tried to show them a better way.

When he found out he had pancreatic cancer, did that slow him down?

No, he was good right up until about two days before he passed away.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner presented Doug Nickerson with the Heart of the City Award. (City of Surrey)

People are calling him a hero. Would he see himself that way?

No. No. He was a very humble man. He was just doing what he thought was right. He was doing what the government should have done five years ago.

He got the Heart of the City Award from Mayor Linda Hepner just last week, so the city acknowledged that he was doing this ... Is that because he was dying?

I have no idea why they gave him the award. I know one thing — that he well-deserved it. 

Nickerson admires his award at his home in Surrey. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

I understand he had a nalaxone kit in his pocket at the award, in case somebody needed it.

Oh yeah, he was diligent about that. Very diligent.

He worked with me on a few projects and I'll tell you something — Doug is probably one of the best people that I've worked with in a long, long time.

How do you think things are going to change on the strip since he's died?

There's going to be more phone calls for the fire, ambulance and police and there's going to be a lot more stressed out workers because Doug isn't there.

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