With fatal overdoses now the leading cause of death for people under 59 in B.C., teenage users who overcame their addiction to 'hard drugs' unveiled their harrowing journey to recovery.
At 13, Madison used hydromorphone for the first time, a drug commonly known as "dillies." It did not take long before she became addicted, progressing to fentanyl to sustain her next fix, reported The Bureau.
On several occasions, she nearly died. But thankfully, two years of abusing 'hard drugs' convinced her to seek help. Now she is in recovery and wants Canadians to know that hydromorphone abuse is rampant among teens in Port Coquitlam, where she lives.
She attributes Canada's "safer supply" and harm-reduction programs to worsening addiction nationwide.
In 2021, B.C. became the first province in Canada to implement a "safer supply" program. The province's then-October submission to Health Canada considered "illicit drug poisoning the leading cause of death amongst British Columbians aged 19 to 39."
While Health Canada claimed providing accessible pharmaceutical opioids as an alternative to potentially-tainted illicit substances would reduce fatal overdoses, fentanyl fatalities have increased year-over-year since the onset of the COVID pandemic.
The B.C. Coroners Service (BCCS) reported 184 deaths caused by illicit drugs, according to the latest monthly data on the ongoing overdose crisis — over 1,200 this year alone. In a year-over-year comparison, the death toll jumped 17% from last June and 2% higher than in May.
Since April 2016, drug overdoses have killed 12,264 people in B.C. and over 32,000 people nationwide. Health Canada blamed fentanyl for the overwhelming majority (76%) of those deaths. Fentanyl, or one of its analogues, caused 90% of illicit drug deaths recorded in June, according to provincial data. Of the fatal overdoses reported this year, B.C. linked 85% of deaths to fentanyl.
Now 15, Madison recounted what opioids had done to her and how it nearly cost her life.
"It's not okay that people aren't seeing this and how it's destroying lives," she said. "Not only our lives but our family's lives. And everyone around us."
According to Madison, "dillies" were commonly used among her peers shortly after the COVID pandemic subsided.
Giuseppe Ganci, a recovering former cocaine and ecstasy user now helping to treat drug addicts, told The Epoch Times his addiction to alcohol and marijuana at 13 progressed to harder substances several years later.
The front-line worker, who now works with recovering teenage users, said without severe, negative consequences, he would have eventually died after being in and out of recovery and relapse cycles for over 20 years.
"I was going to lose my job. I got caught [using] at work," said Ganci, who accessed an occupational health service through work that offered a one-year drug rehab program. "Decriminalization does not stop overdoses — dissuasion does, prevention does."
On January 31, Health Canada granted the province a subsection 56(1) exemption for three years under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize people who possessed up to 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA and meth.
The former user condemned the province's move to temporarily decriminalize small amounts of 'hard drugs,' stating it would not save lives.
According to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the move is a "critical step" to "save lives as we continue to tackle the toxic drug crisis in B.C."
"Decriminalizing people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving support," reads a January 30 government release.
Ganci told the Epoch Times that that's "just not true," adding it's "bizarre" to suggest stigmatization prevents addicts from getting treatment. "I've never met a person who uses drugs, including myself, that didn't get help because they felt 'stigmatized.'"
He claimed addicts use drugs and don't get treatment because they "like" drugs and "don't want to stop using."
Since January, the bureau interviewed over 25 addiction medicine experts who rendered the 'safe supply' policy a failure.
They attributed that hydromorphone, the drug distributed by 'safer supply' in place of fentanyl, is not sufficiently potent to get fentanyl users high.
Experts widely claim that users only consume enough hydromorphone to pass urine and traffic tests and then purchase 'hard drugs' on the black market.
Addiction physicians note that hydromorphone's street price fell 70% to 95% in areas with 'safer supply' programs, resulting in users with lower opioid tolerances abusing the drug — particularly the youth.
However, Chief Coroner Lisa LaPointe told reporters earlier this month there is "no evidence" that a safer supply of drugs contributed to fatal overdoses.
"Illicit fentanyl continues to drive the crisis, causing deaths in large and small municipalities, towns and cities across the province. This health emergency is not confined to…anyone accessing an illicit substance," she said.
Since the precipice of the COVID pandemic, B.C. has noticed a marked increase in overdose fatalities — exceeding combined deaths from homicides, suicides, accidents and natural diseases.
In July 2020, overdose deaths reached 175, marking five consecutive months of increasing incidences. The province confirmed 203 COVID deaths during the same period. A total of 4,605 people died from accidental poisonings in 2020; the following year, the number grew to 6,310.
While the BCCS recorded only 2,272 overdose fatalities in 2022, that is still up tenfold from 2001 — when 272 fatal overdoses occurred.