Skip to content

Island residents mark grim anniversary of public health emergency declaration

Speakers in Parksville share personal stories of family members lost to toxic drugs
Parksville area residents gathered at Memorial Plaza to mark the eighth anniversary of B.C.’s declaration of a public health emergency for toxic drug deaths. From left: Julie Folland, Oceanside Community Action Team (OCAT) peer support worker, Jamie Baird, OCAT co-ordinator, Jane McCormick and Susan Fichtler. (Kevin Forsyth photo)

Parksville Qualicum Beach area residents gathered on April 14 to mark the eighth anniversary of B.C.’s declaration of a public health emergency for toxic drug deaths.

Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH) and the Oceanside Community Action Team (OCAT) organized the event at Memorial Plaza, and speakers related their personal stories of family members who have died due to toxic drugs.

“Fentanyl poisoning has relentlessly claimed lives and devastated communities,” said Jane McCormick, who lost her 35-year-old son Jeffrey to toxic drugs. “Community members continue to die, families are shattered by grief and the promise of meaningful change remains unfulfilled. It’s time for comprehensive strategies that follow the evidence based approaches.”

McCormick now leads a Healing Hearts bereavement group for others who have lost a child. She also advocates for people who are stigmatized by homelessness, mental health and addiction issues.

Sue Fichtler lost her 37-year-old son Evan due to toxic drugs in 2022.

Evan struggled with addiction for approximately 10 years. After detoxing in the family’s Parksville home, he started working at the temporary housing at the VIP hotel.

Evan earned his community support worker certificate first and then his support worker qualification as well, Fichtler said.

“I was very proud. He was kind of following in my footsteps, because I work at supportive housing,” she said. “Even on his days off he would be going to the thrift stores and collecting sleeping bags and tents and any kind of camping gear for people [not able to stay in shelter].”

READ MORE: Black Balloon Day in Parksville remembers people lost to toxic drugs

Evan also worked with OCAT and helped to put together a survey on non-fatal toxic drug poisonings that covered mid-Island communities such as Cowichan, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Oceanside.

His death will likely not be counted as a toxic drug death statistic, Fichtler said, since the preliminary coroner report indicated he died due to smoke inhalation.

“There was a fire and he didn’t wake up,” Fichtler said.

She was also shocked at the list of contaminants found in his system. Evan was a heroin user, but the coroner reported the presence of cocaine, meth, fentanyl, Carfentanil, Para-fluorofentanyl and benzodiazepines, not heroin.

Fichtler has become involved with MSTH and speaks at events like Coldest Night of the Year.

Julie Folland, an OCAT peer support worker, called on governments to do more to address the crisis.

“We’re all trying to come together and get this to stop,” Folland said. “It’s unfortunate that the powers that be don’t see the importance of all the lives we lost and are losing. Everyday it’s someone else’s son, someone else’s daughter, someone’s mothers, fathers, brothers, aunties and uncles, sisters, cousins and grandparents, children.”

OCAT members were available to facilitate free Naloxone training and distribute free Naloxone kits. Team members also plan to advocate to local government councils like the Regional District of Nanaimo Board and Parksville City Council.

BC Coroners Service recorded 14 unregulated drugs deaths in the Oceanside Local Health Area in 2023. The province as a whole recorded a record 2,511 deaths to unregulated drugs.

OCAT strives to reduce deaths and harms due to the toxic drug crisis and works closely with Island Health to bring new services to the area.

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
Read more