B.C. family advocating for drug decriminalization following death of son

B.C. family advocating for drug decriminalization following death of son

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has noted the New Democrats would decriminalize personal possession of all drugs

Jennifer Hedican knew her son Ryan wanted help.

It was the weekend, and with her husband John, they took their son to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox. At the hospital, Ryan was only given a business card.

“They told us to call the public health nurse on Monday. On Monday, Ryan was gone.”

Hedican pauses for a moment, resting her arms on her kitchen table in her Courtenay home.

“If he was a cancer patient, would he have been given a card?”

• • •

Growing up in the Comox Valley, Ryan was, as described by John, “a typical little boy,” who played sports, water skied and played piano.

“Like a lot of things, he didn’t have to work very hard – he had a lot of natural ability,” adds Jennifer.

After graduating from Mark R. Isfeld Secondary, Ryan received his business diploma from North Island College. He thought he would open his own business, but couldn’t find anything that appealed to him, and went back to school for the electrical program at the college in Campbell River.

Prior to his post-secondary schooling, his parents agree they knew he was using drugs recreationally.

It began with alcohol in Grade 10, and shortly afterwards, Ryan was using marijuana. Later, he used heroin.

Jennifer says for the longest time, she attributed the shift in his behaviour to anxiety, but she now knows it was his drug use.

“I was surprised – I was shocked at first. He lived in our house and we would discuss his behavioral choices. He told me he was in a bad spot, but he wasn’t telling us he had a problem. There is a lot of shame in being a drug addict; he didn’t want to be a drug addict. He wanted to be with everyone else but he had this monkey on his back.”

Between his first and second year of school, Ryan found work in the Lower Mainland perfecting his trade.

John says he was able to get clean on his own and he did really well both in school and at the job site. He attended school in Burnaby for his second year and returned to work, but lost his job as his drug use increased.

The Hedicans offered to place Ryan in treatment, and he accepted. Following eight weeks of treatment, he moved home, and eventually found a job working at the Campbell River Hospital as a second-year electrician.

He began using again.

“He had a plan,” explains Jennifer. “He was only going to use every few days – that way he didn’t think he’d have withdrawal symptoms. That didn’t work too well; you’re never smarter than the drugs.”

Ryan eventually moved to Parksville where he lost contact with family for a few months. John received a call from him asking for help.

The family called a variety of resources seeking help. There were wait-lists and roadblocks, and the Hedicans knew Ryan wanted help immediately.

They found a treatment centre in New Westminster, where Ryan lived for eight months.

He found work in Vancouver, and had moved out with friends from the centre in mid-April.

A few days later, Ryan, 26, passed away on April 24, 2017, from a long battle of addiction due to, as termed by the Hedicans, “fentanyl poisoning.”

• • •

The Hedicans understand their approach to changing the way addiction is regarded and treated in Canada is controversial, but they believe lives can be saved by providing a safe, clean source for opiates and other drugs and decriminalizing personal possession.

Jennifer draws parallels between fentanyl and the AIDS crisis – and recalls when those who contracted AIDS were highly stigmatized within society – yet adds sexuality is a normal part of the human condition.

“Addiction is an unwanted disease caused by substance abuse,” Jennifer says firmly. “Substance use is a human condition. For those who say people chose that lifestyle – nobody chooses addition.

“What is the difference between pouring two glasses of wine or taking a toke of a joint or a line of cocaine? One is illegal. If you took the word ‘criminal’ out of it, you’ll see it as part of the human condition – it gives people pleasure. It’s inherent in those substances; that’s what they’re designed to do.”

John – who has spoken to representatives of various levels of government – wonders why the government supports the legalization of some drugs (alcohol and marijuana), yet not others. He feels the use of legal drugs often leads to the use of illegal and now poison-laced drugs.

“(People) are treated as criminals for simple possession; how come we provide safe injection sites yet it is illegal to have those substances in your possession?”

In a report released by the BC Coroners Service in November, there were 914 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C., with fentanyl detected from January through September 2017 – a 147 per cent increase (370 deaths) from the same period last year.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has noted the New Democrats would decriminalize personal possession of all drugs, not just marijuana.

Both John and Jennifer are sharing their experiences through school presentations and will continue to advocate for what they believe would be an option for government to address the fentanyl crisis.

They are asking others to contact government officials to share their concerns.

“My thoughts may not be your thoughts, but we’re putting an honesty and face to the numbers,” notes John. “It’s so easy to think that (overdoses and deaths) are happening to ‘those people’ – those on the Downtown Eastside. But it’s us. It’s happening to us.”

Just Posted

(RCMP logo)
RCMP investigating early morning assault in Williams Lake

An insecure firearm was located in a residence

Williams Lake City Council rejected a proposal Tuesday at its regular meeting for the city to host a junior A hockey team for the upcoming 2021/22 season. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Council rejects junior A hockey bid in Williams Lake

The proposal has been up for debate the past several months

The city of Williams Lake will help fund a position at Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo Chilcotin Branch for mental health programs using some of the COVID safe restart grant the city received from the province. (City of Williams Lake photo)
City of Williams Lake allocates 35K to support mental health programs

The funding for CMHA coming from the COVID Safe Restart grant the city received

Speed reader data collected between March 1 and April 28, 2021 indicated 94.68 per cent of vehicles traveling through kept below or to the 50 km hour speed limit. (Angie Mindus file photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
City council agrees further speed restrictions not warranted for Westridge area of Williams Lake

Staff bases decision on speed reader data collected over six-week period

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Children walk back to their classroom while wearing masks and physical distancing at St. Barnabas Catholic School in Scarborough, Ont., in October, 2020. A group of B.C. teachers has issued an open letter calling for the relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions for children in B.C. schools. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Group of B.C. teachers calls for easing of pandemic measures for students

Teacher group says ‘response to COVID is out of balance to the cost our youth are paying’

Adam Hamdan has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorist charges given temporary residence in Canada

Adam Hamdan had been facing deportation to Jordan, where he holds citizenship through his Palestinian parents

Lumber is shown in the back of a van in this recent image provided by the Saskatoon Police Service. The skyrocketing prices for lumber is fuelling a trend that has authorities across the country warning builders to keep their guard up. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Saskatoon Police Service-Const. Derek Chesney *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘It is a gold mine:’ Builders warned of rising lumber thefts across Canada

Many North American mills curtailed production temporarily earlier in 2020 because of COVID lockdowns

RCMP. (Black Press File)
Major Crimes called in after 2 bodies discovered on remote road near Penticton

A manhunt involving a police helicopter took place on May 10

Vancouver court on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Defence lawyers call foul as Crown counsel granted access to COVID-19 vaccines

Defence attorneys are pushing the province to extend inoculation access to workers in courtrooms across B.C.

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. Indigenous leaders are calling for an investigation into the conduct of Mounties on Vancouver Island after two police shootings of members of a small First Nations community in three months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Indigenous leaders call for clarity, investigation into RCMP after B.C. shooting

The RCMP declined to comment on the requests by Indigenous leaders

Most Read