Just days before the school year was set to begin, officials in Delta were reeling from reports of nine drug overdoses in a 20-minute period involving fentanyl, the powerful street-drug.
It was just the latest scare in more than 300 illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia between January and August 2016, with the Fraser Health Authority dealing with 100 of those overdoses alone.
“These overdoses took place in a very tight period of time and within a very tight community,” said Brad Bauman, Assistant Superintendent for SD37 (Delta). “Our police service, mayor, health authority and Superintendent and Board Chair were all saying: ‘Wow, this is a game changer and we need to act.’ The message we were getting from police was this was unlike anything they’d seen.”
Delta responded quickly by organizing two town halls on fentanyl in mid-September, where Bauman estimates 1,000 students, parents and others attended in order to seek answers.
What makes fentanyl so dangerous is that it can be deadly in very small doses – as little as a few granules can kill a new user. As of September, fentanyl related overdoses had already doubled in number from all of 2015, according to the BC Coroners Service.
“I think people are aware of fentanyl, but I also think parents in general never think it will happen to their child, that their children aren’t doing these things,” said Christie Sacré, Chair of SD44 (North Vancouver) Board of Education. “But sometimes, you just don’t know.”
To help educate parents, teachers and students, Sacré is part of a team organizing a fentanyl town hall in North Vancouver on Nov. 23. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, Vancouver Coastal Health’s Medical Health Officer for the North Shore. Representatives from North Vancouver RCMP, West Vancouver Police, and other health representatives will also speak.
“Basically, we want to be proactive. We thankfully haven’t had any issues with fentanyl overdoses in schools on the North Shore, but it’s important to inform people, to let them know this could potentially be their kids without proper education,” Sacré said.
Bauman expanded on the notion, adding that the second facet of town hall events is to inform everyone about the resources that are available in the community for those affected by drug use. In Delta, this includes ongoing secondary school presentations with the Odd Squad, a group of serving and retired police officers who educate the public on avoiding drugs and gang life.
“We’re learning, and we’re trying to educate our counsellors, who are going for overdose awareness training as a bit of a preventative measure so we know what that looks like in frontline training,” Bauman said.
Bauman added that Delta had an early impetus to get ahead of the fentanyl crisis with a cascade of overdoses in a short period of time, but he hopes all school districts will work collaboratively to increase education and awareness around illicit drug use.
Sacré, who has children in Grades 10, 12 and third year university, noted that the goal of fentanyl town halls is not to increase anxiety. Rather, it is about educators’ top priority of student safety, emphasising that this is “the crucial age range for drug education.”
“This is a very real danger and not something most families anticipate. I hope people take the issue seriously, and I hope they come out and learn from our experts,” she said.
By Daniel Palmer, Writer, BCSTA