BY BILL PHILLIPS
It’s been 117 days since Courtney Hanson died of an accident overdose
She was 26 years old.
“Courtney died behind a locked door in a friend’s home,” said her mother Niki Hanson who describes herself as a drug war survivor. “She had been given a pass from the recovery house she was staying at.”
Niki told about 30 people gathered at the Prince George Courthouse for the National Day of Action on the Opioid Crisis that Courtney was excited that she hadn’t used drugs for six months.
“That night, Friday, October 27, Courtney told her girlfriend that she was going to use the shower,” said Niki. “That would be the last time her friend saw Courtney alive. Her friend fell asleep and woke up some time in the morning to the shower still going and having to unlock the door and find Courtney dead.”
Niki said her daughter struggled with depression and anxiety.
“I believe that when she picked up that paper of heroin, she was picking up what she thought would help her feel more at ease and happy, for the moment, and then she could carry on,” Niki said. “For some of us, that’s how we respond to opiates. It’s nice, warm, fuzzy, calm, and warming feeling.”
She said people who have suffered trauma or mental health issues are very susceptible.
“Shame is what killed Courtney and the unpredictable potency of the heroin,” she said. “Regulated heroin and monitoring would not have killed Courtney. She knew the risks, was educated, and lived in supportive housing. Shame and stigma kept her secretive and using alone.”
Niki said decriminalizing drugs will remove the shame and stigma associated with drugs use.
“People who use drugs have hope,” said Niki. “Her death took that hope away.”
She said she is sharing her story about Courtney to hopefully prevent more overdose deaths.
“We must speak up and stand up for those who have died and those who continue to live in the current opioid crisis,” she said.
She said she would like to see government decriminalize all drugs, provide on-demand treatment for drug users personalized to individual needs including therapy, housing that accommodates people who use drugs with staff on-site to monitor consumption, more prevention sites and harm reduction services.
“This isn’t just a Downtown Eastside issue,” she added.
Niki also called on Prince George city council to rescind its new bylaw that allows it to fine owners of nuisance properties.
Medical health officer for Northern Health Dr. Andrew Gray said the opioid crisis is, indeed, a crisis.
“This is one of the biggest public health issues that we’ve ever faced,” said Dr. Andrew Gray, medical health officer with Northern Health. “Twenty-two people died of drug overdose in Prince George in 2017, another 1,400 died across the province. This is more than suicide, homicide, and motor vehicle accidents put together.”
All of those who have died leave behind others who are grieving.
He said the drug supply has become much more dangerous over the past few years as fentanyl is found more and more.
He said health authorities across the province have done a lot to deal with the issue through increased awareness and making naloxone kits readily available.
“We can only do so much when people are still shamed, criticized, ostracized, and criminalized for their drug use,” he said. “This needs to change.”
He said decriminalization would go a long way to reducing the stigma attached with drug use.
“The war on drugs is a radical idea, decriminalization is a very practical idea,” he said.
Trevor Charles, a peer support counsellor at Positive Living North, said he has lots of friends who are dealing with addiction issues.
“It’s a bad thing,” he said. “I’ve had to Narcan 16 people in the past, not even three years. I don’t want to lose any friends. Something has to be done.”
Vanessa West of Positive Living North said people like Charles are saving lives on the streets, but there is no support for them.
“There’s no support for the peers who are on the street,” she said. “They’re saving their friends lives and there’s no PTSD counselling for them. They’re acting as first responders … thank you for doing a job that we, as a community, have failed.”
She pointed out one of the challenges with the harm reduction program’s federal funding is that Ottawa requires peer counsellors need to have university degrees.
“The fact that our peers are still alive and able to provide service and help others, that is there education, that is their degree,” she said.