Mom wants changes, awareness after baby finds drugs on Kamloops play structure

Drugs found by baby

A Kamloops mother is warning other parents to be aware when they head to the park after her 11-month-old daughter nearly ingested what appeared to be heroin.

Stefanie Elliott was at McDonald Park Sunday morning (July 5) with her baby and three-year-old daughter. While she says she normally checks the play area for anything dangerous she was distracted from doing a full look over.

Less than a minute after her kids were on the play structure she noticed her youngest had picked up what looked like a leaf while sitting by the top of the slide.

"My three-year-old was next to her. I asked her to take the leaf from her sister," she says. "I said, 'Please get that from your sister before she puts it in her mouth.'"

Her three-year-old grabbed the object from her sister, and that's when Elliott realized it wasn't a leaf.

"As she was handing it to me I realized it was a bag of drugs," she says.

As a registered nurse who works in the mental health field, Elliott says it appeared to be heroin, though without a chemical test it's hard to be certain. She notes, though, that it appeared to be similar to a strain of purple heroin that there have been warnings about recently.

"I knew if a baby ingested it would have been fatal," she says. "I realized how (near) her death was and I was devastated."

She quickly washed her and her children's hands, called police to dispose of the drugs and spoke to a city parks crew who was nearby, who empathized.

"Of course they responded with, 'Oh my god, that's so horrible,'" she says. "Then one lady said, 'I wouldn't let my grandkids come to the park.'"

Elliott says she felt instantly shamed by the comment.

With her experience as a nurse and her husband's as a paramedic, they were able to monitor their children for any signs of an overdose from contact with the bag. Luckily, everyone was OK, she says.

Kamloops RCMP, in a press release, say they were alerted to the incident and responded, calling the material in the small bag "a suspected controlled substance." They note that fentanyl has become the drug of choice now, over heroin.

"Some drug traffickers add colouring to their product to make it a signature product," says Cst. Gary Gray in the release. "The most common colour that Kamloops RCMP have been seeing is purple fentanyl."

After the incident, Elliott took to Facebook to warn others. The post has since taken off.

"I think the shares indicates the amount of people who are supportive," she says. "But the comments are vastly negative, shaming, begging me for self-responsibility."

"Believe me, there is self-reflection on my part."

However, she's hoping speaking about her experience will do some good. Long-term, she's hoping it will add to the discussion about substance abuse, and she says she supports ideas like safe supplies and supervised consumption sites.

In the short-term, she's wondering why drugs were left on a children's play structure without it being cleaned up.

"Is it anyone's job description... to ensure the play structures are not filled with drug paraphernalia?" she says.

While the city does have park crews, Deputy CAO Byron McCorkell says there is no crew assigned to checking playgrounds every day.

"It'd be great if we could, but we have some 50 or 60 play structures in the park system," he says, noting he isn't aware of any community where staff do daily playground checks.

"We have crews that are assigned specific tasks, like checking fences, benches, cutting grass," he says. "But they don't do any of them daily in any park."

Also, while parks have an opening and closing time, he adds that is a bylaw, and no one is physically going around to parks to open or close them. Only Riverside Park and McArthur Island have crews working on them daily, because of the size and amount of use.

He says the crew that was on site at McDonald Park Sunday was a washroom crew, who go to all the city washrooms in Kamloops to clean and restock. While they'll survey the park for any significant pieces of litter and check the garbage cans, they don't do a close-up review of the park.

"We rely on the public to inform us when something isn't working the way it's supposed to," he says. "The person using the space needs to be aware of their surroundings."

If someone does notice something wrong in a park, he says to call the appropriate organization, be it police, bylaw or the parks department. While this incident took place at McDonald Park, he says drugs, alcohol, litter and other "untoward items" are found at parks across the city, of which there are more than 80.

McCorkell says he's saddened to hear what happened to the Elliotts, and said he's disappointed at what parks staff told the family afterward. However, he adds staff members are allowed to express themselves how they wish.

Elliott says she doesn't think it would take long for staff to do a simple once over of play structures and that it should be part of someone's job.

"It really ought to be," she says. "A five-minute run through would have saved my kids life it I hadn't been there."

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