BC parents looking for government accountability for drug supply

A couple from Courtenay whose 26-year-old son, Ryan Hedican, died after smoking fentanyl-laced heroin have requested to change the coroner’s report on his death to say he was poisoned. John and Jennifer Hedican, Ryan’s parents, have stated that holding the senior governments accountable for the “staggering loss of life” could change the way municipal governments respond to the growing opioid crisis.

“Our current drug policy which allows organized crime to be the sole provider of toxic drugs that has killed over 4,000 in our province (since 2016) and over 13,000 in our country, along with putting millions at risk of immediate death, is responsible for Ryan’s death. The toxic drugs supplied by organized crime does not give substance users another chance.”

Ryan’s mother, Jennifer Hedican

In April 2017, Ryan Hedican smoked heroin at a construction site in Vancouver, where he worked as an electrician, during his lunch break, following eight months of being drug-free. Ryan was 26 years old, and had previously sought addiction treatment. According to his parents, he was living with his sober friends, and had a “vision board” of short- and long-term goals in his room, as well as individual meals in the fridge for the week. John Hedican told the Vancouver Sun, “He didn’t get up that day intending to use drugs… He bought heroin or he was given heroin with fentanyl.”

Hedican also said that the report by the B.C. Coroners Service investigation classified his son’s death as accidental and caused by an unintentional illicit-drug overdose. However, he argues that the word “overdose” places the blame on the drug user for making a poor choice.

In July 2019, the B.C. Coroners Service had changed the way it describes illicit drug overdose-related deaths, now referring to them as ‘illicit-drug toxicity deaths’. The service also reported that in 2018, up to 90% of drug-toxicity deaths involved illicit fentanyl, up from five per cent in 2012, according to the service.

“The term overdose wasn’t precise or as accurate in describing it as an illicit-drug toxicity death… It can be stigmatizing to use the term ‘overdose,’ as it may imply that the user knows the amount they are consuming. But as we know with fentanyl… sometimes it’s not known about the toxicity of what is being taken and therefore [the death] is unintentional. We do know the drug supply is toxic,”

Andy Watson, spokesperson B.C. Coroners Service, to Vancouver Sun.

The Hedicans have been calling on city councils to put pressure on provincial and federal leaders, as well as political parties, to make changes to their policies. Had Ryan been addicted to alcohol, they said he could have purchased what he needed that day because alcohol is provided through a government-controlled system.

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