In a fatal bout of irony, a Vancouver man who sold over-the-counter illicit drugs has died from a reported overdose.
Before his death, Jerry Martin, 51, sold cocaine, heroin and meth from his mobile trailer in Downtown Eastside. He prided himself in his ability to produce a product with no impurities or harmful additives.
In May, he opened 'The Drugs Store' on the corner of Main and Cordova Streets — mere months after the province temporarily legalized up to 2.5 grams of various 'hard drugs.'
In February, Health Canada granted B.C. 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.
However, police arrested Martin a day following the launch of his venture, as it remains illegal to sell or traffic those drugs.
"I know he made some mistakes in his life," said a family member. "In totality, he was a very good person. He was very kind and so generous. He was always helping people."
Saddened by his sudden loss, Martin's friends and family did not immediately know the cause of death. They said onlookers found him unconscious last week, and paramedics took him to a nearby hospital for immediate care.
Martin, unfortunately, passed on Friday from a suspected fentanyl overdose. After hospital staff failed to register brain activity, his family took him off life support.
As an advocate, he planned to mount a charter challenge against the federal drug prohibition, arguing that unregulated products on the black market carry a higher risk of overdose.
Those who best knew him said he supported the legalization of 'hard drugs' so users could safely access drugs amid a provincial overdose crisis wrought by a poisoned illicit drug supply.
Case in point: First responders received an incredible 45 overdose calls from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on March 22 — more than double that of a typical day and a new daily record.
B.C. first responders have documented over 8,500 calls for overdose poisoning province-wide this year, with an average of six deaths daily from illicit drug use.
"The drugs are being cut with so many different things at this time," said Keith Stewart, assistant chief of Vancouver Fire Rescue Service. "We're seeing some negative effects."
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.
Of the fatal overdoses reported this year, the province linked 85% of deaths to fentanyl.
B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) attributed the inflated call volume to more toxic and dangerous illicit drugs available for widespread consumption, including xylazine — a "cutting agent" in the illicit drug supply.
"It can complicate the response to opioid poisoning," said a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions spokesperson. However, they contend the Health Canada exemption "is vitally important," as is carrying naloxone, "which can save a life."
"[Decriminalization] will break down the barriers that prevent people from reaching out for help and create new pathways to life-saving services," claimed the ministry.
Two weeks later, Vancouver city staff and police cleared out the remnants of an East Hastings tent city after nine months of subpar progress using softer methods.
"We're not solving homelessness today. We're dealing with a serious public-safety issue," said city manager Paul Mochrie.
City personnel and roughly 100 police officers blocked public access to East Hastings from Main to Abbott streets as workers tossed tents and belongings in garbage trucks.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer and Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry concurred the camp contributed to more violent crime, fires, and dangerous situations the public could no longer tolerate. Illicit drugs were pervasive in the tent city.
According to government statistics, illicit drug overdoses now kill more people in B.C. under 60 than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural diseases combined.
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.
In October 2021, B.C.'s submission to Health Canada considered "illicit drug poisoning the leading cause of death amongst British Columbians aged 19 to 39."
The B.C. Coroners Service recorded 2,272 deaths the following year due to toxic, illicit drugs — up from 272 fatal drug overdoses in 2001. Between January and May 2023, the province reported 1,018 fatal overdoses and may set another record for drug deaths per annum this year.