Antonette Rea speaks after attending a community meeting in Kitsilano where people learned how to respond to an overdose, in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday November 13, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Stories from the overdose crisis’ front lines

Drug users and first responders share stories from the B.C. overdose crisis’ front lines

More than a month had passed before Antonette Rea found the note her young friend had written her before fatally overdosing earlier this year.

“Thank you so much for saving my life,” Rea reads aloud to a crowd of 80 people packed into a community hall in the tony Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano.

“I love your dancing and your singing and sorry for using all of your nail polish and art supplies,” she continues, prompting laughter from the otherwise silent audience. She smiles and puts down the note: “I called her Jilly Bean. Jilly.”

Related: Solving the drug overdose tragedy

Rea was one of more than a half-dozen drug users and first responders based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who shared their stories with residents living elsewhere in the city over the past six weeks as part of a series of overdose awareness and prevention workshops.

Monday evening’s gathering in Kitsilano was the last of six events aimed at delivering stories from the front line of British Columbia’s overdose epidemic.

Jackie Wong helped facilitate the program, which was organized by the Overdose Prevention Society and Megaphone Magazine, a monthly publication sold by homeless and low-income vendors.

It is important the overdose conversation happens beyond the Downtown Eastside, in neighbourhoods where drug use is not as public, Wong said.

“I think that that’s where the conversation needs to move, … to places where people might be overdosing in private residences or quieter places because of the stigma that still is associated with them as a drug user.”

Storytellers included people who survived the residential school system or various forms of violence and discrimination, those who experienced a traumatic childhood or worked in the sex trade.

Rea is a transgender poet and playwright who has struggled with drug addiction and once worked as a prostitute in the Downtown Eastside. She said there is a good chance her friend Jilly Bean would be alive if she had overdosed in the Downtown Eastside instead of in North Burnaby, thanks to the lack of overdose-prevention training and resources outside of Vancouver’s hardest-hit neighbourhood.

The hall was completely quiet as Samona Marsh spoke about the number of people she knows who have died from an overdose, including her feather in early 2017.

“If I had one wish or magical wand, I would bring back everyone’s friends and families who passed away and make fentanyl non-existent,” said Marsh, who has lived in the Downtown Eastside for the past 25 years.

She coined the term “fentanality” to refer to a fentanyl fatality.

Related: September least deadly month for drug overdose this year: coroner

The workshops also included a training session on how to respond to an overdose, delivered by the Overdose Prevention Society

Kitsilano resident Deborah Buchanan volunteered to be shown how to administer naloxone by filling a syringe and injecting it into the leg of a stuffed toy gorilla.

“I’m so happy I learned,” Buchanan said afterwards. “I need to know how to do this and help someone.

“My son was involved in drugs, my middle son, and it kind of tore me apart, because I always thought, ‘I’m going to see you die one day and I don’t want to see that.’ “

She said what she found most inspiring was hearing from the storytellers.

Frederick Williams, a responder with the overdose prevention group, led the training session.

He said it’s important that these events happen outside the Downtown Eastside because has turned into a city-wide epidemic.

“It’s very important to have it come out to places like Kitsilano, Shaughnessy, all these higher-end neighbourhoods,” he said in an interview following the presentation. ”They can’t put their head in the sand like an ostrich and think it’s going to go away, because it’s not.”

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ladysmith, Stz’uminus celebrate ‘Salish Wind’ unveiling

Ladysmith and Stz’uminus residents gathered together last Wednesday night to witness the… Continue reading

150 flags to be raised at Ladysmith’s Aggie Hall for National Child Day

Ladysmith Family and Friends leads project to have children, but also a few adults, paint 150 flags.

Heavy rainfall causes sinkhole along Ladysmith street

Heavy rainfall and the resulting erosion caused a sinkhole to form early… Continue reading

Second boat sinks in Ladysmith Harbour in less than a month

A boat has sank in Ladysmith Harbour marking the second such incident… Continue reading

Chemainus Festival takes theatregoers on comedic Christmas trip to Cancun

Grab your sandals and 80s Christmas sweater and let Chemainus Theatre Festival take you to Cancun.

UPDATE: More searchers out looking for missing senior near Nanaimo

Search and rescue personnel from all over the Island are looking for 73-year-old Faye Hanson

Lights to turn blue ahead of funeral for fallen Abbotsford police officer

Buildings across B.C. are going blue Saturday night in honour of Const. John Davidson

Ride-share pioneer drives up quietly

Lyft approaches B.C. without Uber bombast

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

Pine beetles from Jasper National Park moving into commercial forest

In 2014, beetle activity went from a few spots around Jasper’s townsite to rampant

VIDEO: Tragically Hip members, Alex Trebek receive Order of Canada

Newest recipients join 6,897 Canadians such as Christine Sinclair, Graham Greene and Mark Messier

AC/DC’s Malcolm Young dies at 64

‘Malcolm was a songwriter, guitarist, performer, producer and visionary who inspired many.’

‘I will now live in consistent fear’: Allan Schoenborn granted escorted leaves

The Merritt man was deemed not criminally responsible in the killing of his three children in 2008

Hammy the deer dodges conservation officers in Prince Rupert

The famous Prince Rupert hammock deer maintains his purple threads

Most Read