Emotions were running high last Thursday as Grade 12 students at South Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) were given a stark presentation on the tragic consequences of the toxic drug crisis by mothers who have all lost sons.
Nelson’s Jessica Michalofsky, who lost her son Aubrey last August to the toxic drug crisis, is part way through her Run For Aubrey, a campaign to raise awareness for the toxic drug crisis. As a marathon runner, the run was a natural choice for her awareness campaign.
She ran nine kilometres north into Oliver the morning of the presentation and was planning to continue on in the afternoon another 21 kilometres to her next destination on the way to the legislature in Victoria.
She began this 900 km journey on May 21 in Nelson and plans to finish on June 25 in Victoria stopping in numerous small towns on the way. Michalofsky is accompanied by her brother and partner, who are following her in a redone old school bus carrying life-saving naloxone kits to hand out to anyone who is willing to put them in their first aid kits.
“I think safe supply saves lives, I am not actually asking the government for anything, they have already said they have a policy of safe supply they announced in July 2021...Where is it? If you live in Oliver, where is your safe supply? If you are in Winlaw, where is your safe supply? They are saying one thing, and it's just lip service,” Michalofsky said.
“We can step it up, if we are really interested in saving lives, we could do it, you know I saw what we did during Covid-19...We need to protect vulnerable people, we all did that, we made sacrifices, and now for this, we are not doing it, we are not sacrificing,” she continued.
During the presentation to the soon-to-be graduates, Michalofsky was accompanied by four other mothers, Jill McCullum, Joyce Bungee, Jackie Botbijl, and Jill Martens who have lost their children to this crisis, all members of MomsStopTheHarm (MSTH).
McCullum, Martens, and Michalofsky presented their stories about the unfortunate circumstances that led to them being members of MSTH, “a club you do not want to belong to”, all as a result of the toxic drug crisis, McCullum expressed.
About 40 Grade 12 grads attended the presentation. In the middle of the mother’s stories, Patrick Shejbal, an Overdose Prevention Nurse in Penticton, presented on the health and medical aspects of preventing overdoses, what to do if you find yourself in those situations, and was available to answer all questions the students had.
There was plenty of emotion in the room with Tracy Harrington, Principal of SOSS expressing her appreciation for the presentation and how it reached the children.
“I just think these kinds of presentations are so impactful because it's personal, it's heartfelt, they are speaking from experience, horrific experience. And for the kids to be that engaged, you can tell that even if it's not them, they are thinking ‘Hmm I know somebody,’ and it’s just that next level of what can we do to help them,” she said.
“This is a seed, this is a starting point,” McCullum said about the presentation. A large focus of the presentation was the stigma around this topic. With everyone jumping through the “politically correct hoops” in presenting this information to young people.
In fact, McCullum said that “it's been recognized now, and in fact, Interior Health and authorities have said it's really non-negotiable, we have to get into schools and start with those kids who are most vulnerable.” This is why she reached out to have this first-of-its-kind presentation in Oliver to open the door to further progress.
Harrington said, “I think it's important we continue with this work, kids need to know, and we need to do something to end that stigma.”
After the presentation, MomsStopTheHarm, Michalofsky, Shejbal and any students that wanted more information headed over to Oliver Eats where We Will Recover, an indigenous-led peer-support group that are leaders in providing naloxone and Narcan kits to people and organizations, and Shejbal, were training people on how to use these life-saving aids.
Narcan nasal spray and naloxone injections are a medication used to treat and reverse the effects of opioids and is used to counter the decreased breathing in opioid overdoses.
The two are the same medications, just different vehicles to administer them. Shejbal could not train anyone on using the Narcan spray, but only the naloxone kits. “I can't do the nasal spray because Interior Health didn't get it, it is brought in from Alberta . . . it's not funded by the BC government so as an Interior Health employee I can't give out Narcan.”
Free Narcan kits were available at the event for anyone that wanted one. And to draw some students to the event at Oliver Eats the Oliver Lions Club, and the Oliver Missions Society were giving out a pancake breakfast for all who attended.
The Province declared the toxic drug crisis a public health emergency in 2016. In these seven years, 12,000 British Columbians have died from the toxic unregulated supply of drugs, with about 35,000 dying across Canada.
Last year was the deadliest on record with 2,314 British Columbians losing their lives to this crisis.