Fentanyl is the likely cause of two deaths in Hitacu over the past two weeks, according to local police.
The victims’ identities have not been released. Both are believed to be have been in their late 20’s.
Sgt. Steve Mancini of the Ucluelet RCMP said toxicology reports are pending in both cases, but fentanyl is the primary suspect.
“To say it’s fentanyl would be premature, however, in light of the province-wide and country-wide epidemic opioid crisis, I would think that that would probably be a safe assumption,” he said.
“It’s pretty recent for us here in Ucluelet and on the West Coast in general. We haven’t had issues with fentanyl related deaths up until the past couple weeks…A first time use can be all it takes to end your life, so we’re going to be gearing up and doing some educational campaigns to try to make local people aware of the dangers of it.”
The most recent victim was discovered deceased in a parked vehicle around 10 p.m. Friday night.
“It’s very disturbing to our citizens. It’s very, very, difficult. We’ve been gathering with the family since Saturday morning to give strength to them to get through these difficult times,” said Ucluelet First Nation president Les Doiron.
Hitacu is a Ucluelet First Nation community and Doiron, who called for a larger RCMP presence last week, said the community is mourning three recent substance-related deaths.
“It’s very trying times as we’ve had three young members of Hitacu pass away in the last month,” he said noting Island Health issued an advisory on Friday to announce a spike in heroin related overdoses in Port Alberni.
“We need to, first of all, stand together in support of the families that have lost their loved ones. That’s going to be the first step and I think that as well that we need to openly discuss drugs and alcohol in our community,” he said. “It almost seems like heroin is an accepted drug in today’s society, which is really odd. I think that what we need to do is band together as a community and try and figure it out.”
Hitacu is located across the bay from Ucluelet. Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques offered her sympathies to the community and added that the heartbreak is shared throughout the Coast.
“These young people that have had this most severe effect they can have from this drug are members of the West Coast community,” St. Jacques said. “They’re our folks too and it’s just a terrible thing that’s happened to them and their families and all of us. We’re all a family out here.”
She added Ucluelet is ready to join the Ucluelet First Nation in a collective fight against fentanyl.
“We’re always aware of it and we’re always concerned. It’s wide-spread across the Island and Vancouver and it’s always a concern, but as you hear of these incidents that are closer to home, it becomes more of a worry definitely,” she said. “We look forward to working with our neighbours against this.”
Mancini said an investigation is underway to find the person, or persons, responsible for bringing drugs into town and police are asking the public to assist by providing any information they might have.
“Drug trafficking, in general, is something that we take very seriously here and we’re asking anybody that has any information about anybody bringing drugs into our community to contact us here at the Ucluelet RCMP detachment or Crime Stoppers, which will afford you the right to remain anonymous,” he said.
The RCMP detachment can be reached at 250-726-7773 and the Crime Stoppers tip line can be reached at 1-800-222-8477.
Mancini is also urging anyone who is using drugs, or knows someone who is, to seek help.
“The problem is, people don’t know what they’re taking. That’s with any drug nowadays. The times have changed…Back in the day, for lack of better words, people that were taking drugs knew what they were getting and in today’s world you don’t know what you’re getting. You might think you’re smoking a joint or you might think you’re doing cocaine, or whatever the case is, but you don’t know,” he said.
“It’s scary. It’s scary for the kids growing up. It’s scary for anyone that’s suffering from substance abuse…We have programs for people that are suffering from addictions and friends of those people need to step up and get support and make the people aware that there’s options for them to help them get help so they don’t end up on the wrong side of this crisis.”
Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use Services Team can be reached at 250-726-1282.
Comments are closed for this story to protect the identity of the victims, which have not been released by the Ucluelet RCMP.