A woman who thought she was ingesting cocaine died of an overdose last summer. Her husband says the only illicit drug found in her system was fentanyl.

Husband of Peninsula overdose victim speaks to tragedy

Planning continues for fentanyl forum to address trend that has taken deadly toll in South Surrey, White Rock

The woman – a gainfully employed, well-liked mother on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – had done cocaine before.

She wasn’t an addict or even a regular user. Those who knew her said she took the illicit stimulant “on occasion.”

But on a night out last summer, the woman took what she believed was cocaine for the last time, fatally overdosing on a substance that was later determined to be laced with fentanyl.

“That was the only drug that was in there,” the woman’s spouse told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

“It wasn’t cocaine at all.”

The man – who said he isn’t ready to speak at length publicly about what happened – described this year’s epidemic of fatal overdoses, and the link to fentanyl in particular, as “just a real tragedy.”

As of Oct. 31, 622 people in B.C. have died of overdoses, with an estimated 60 per cent of those linked to the deadly opiate.

The mother’s death, which occurred in Surrey, “was felt very strongly” on the Peninsula, said George Passmore, manager of counselling and substance-use services for Sources Community Resource Centres.

“The shockwave of her loss – it was devastating for a great many people,” he said. “She was very loved.”

Passmore cited the tragedy as an example of fentanyl’s local impact. While officials say there is a perception that the crisis is largely a North Surrey and Downtown Eastside issue, the reality is fentanyl has reared its head in both South Surrey and White Rock on more than that one occasion this year.

Last month, two men, aged 34 and 58, died in separate overdose incidents in one weekend in White Rock; in one, two children were present in the home. That same weekend, police in South Surrey responded to an overdose involving a 30-year-old man.

And in September, a 20-year-old South Surrey woman died after ingesting what her family described as an “accidental but deadly concoction of prescription and non-prescription” drugs.

“Certainly, this is unprecedented,” Passmore said of the death toll associated with a single substance. “We’ve never had to be thinking about mortality on this frequent a basis.”

Passmore is among local officials and experts who convened at Sources’ White Rock office last Friday afternoon to brainstorm ways to raise awareness on the Semiahmoo Peninsula that receiving fentanyl-laced drugs is a possibility for anyone who decides to use – whether as an addict or a first-time user.

“The risk profile is spread,” Passmore said. “It’s never been more likely than it is now.”

Authorities say the drug’s potency and relatively low cost has been a draw for dealers, who have been using it increasingly in recent years to cut their product and maximize profits.

A lethal dose is estimated to be the equivalent of about two grains of salt.

Steps are ongoing at municipal, provincial and federal levels to  address the crisis. Last week, Health Canada announced regulatory changes aimed at restricting access to six chemicals that are used to make fentanyl; and on Tuesday, Fraser Health announced efforts to establish two safe-consumption sites in Surrey, as well as boost access to opioid-substitution treatments in Abbotsford and Maple Ridge.

The latter is needed locally, Passmore said, noting there are currently no doctors on the Semiahmoo Peninsula who prescribe the heroin substitute, suboxane.

A community forum is being planned for the new year, but exactly how it will look is still being determined. Passmore and others involved – the effort is being co-ordinated by Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg – say stories like that of the woman who died last summer will be key.

“These are just everyday people. These are your friends, your family… caring people and loving people, and contributing to society,” Hogg said. “It’s not as easy to push away and say it’s somebody else’s issue.”

Passmore said his vision for the forum isn’t of instilling fear, but of dialogue and engagement focused on reversing the trend.

Hogg said efforts to raise awareness prior to Christmas will include distribution of posters and handheld cards created by Fraser Health regarding fentanyl. They will be distributed through organizations including youth groups, the chamber of commerce and local businesses, he said.

Just Posted

Woman found dead in Okanagan Lake identified as Surrey resident

Police ‘do not believe criminality was involved’ in the death of 29-year-old Caitlin Bradley

‘I feel ready for it’: On a BMX, Surrey man is ‘Cycling for Sobriety’ across Canada

Mat Fee will depart Halifax on May 1 to raise money and awareness for John Volken Academy

Students run blood, stem cell donor drive at Surrey’s Vaisakhi Parade

Volunteer youth group One Blood for Life aims to create a more ethnically diverse stem cell registry

Surrey prayer vigil planned to honour hundreds killed in Sri Lanka bombings

The event is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday night at Holland Park

Homeless activists outside Notre Dame demand ‘a roof too’

Wealthy people have donated millions to effort to rebuild cathedral after devastating fire

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Anti-SOGI activist slams ban on B.C. dad speaking out about transgender son’s case

A judge has told the father to stop publicly objecting to his son’s gender

PHOTOS: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says ‘I do’ on Earth Day

May and John Kidder got married Monday morning in Victoria

Victims injured in Lower Mainland deck collapse ranged from 15 to 83 years old

Victim Services staff have reached out to those hurt and their families

‘Ghost restaurants’ cooked up by Joseph Richard Group to meet demand of delivered food

The new Meal Ticket Brands venture aims to ‘disrupt’ the local restaurant industry

Sri Lanka invokes war-time military powers after nearly 300 killed in Easter bombings

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism says 39 foreign tourists were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks

Torched SUV linked to Vancouver’s fourth homicide

Manoj Kumar, 30, was found dead from gunshot wounds in the Kitsilano neighbourhood

Multiple sailing waits as BC Ferries deals with Easter Monday traffic

89 extra sailings had been added to the long weekend schedule

Most Read