Police teaching students and parents about fentanyl as crisis continues to claim lives

Victoria High holding information session for parents

Victoira police school liason officer Const. Chris Gilbert talks to students at a Victoria school. Gilbert will be on a panel of speakers on hand at Vic High on Thursday

Victoira police school liason officer Const. Chris Gilbert talks to students at a Victoria school. Gilbert will be on a panel of speakers on hand at Vic High on Thursday

For a typical teenager looking to experiment with drugs, heroin is still a scary word.

It’s associated with talking to a scary man with scars and a leather jacket, said Victoria police school liaison officer Const. Chris Gilbert, which is why teens tend to feel more safe taking a pharmaceutical pill that someone might be sharing at school.

But the pills aren’t always what they’re supposed to be. Gilbert has seen an increase in teens using prescription drugs such as Xanex, Atavan and anti-depressant pills that look legitimate, but could be laced with fentanyl — a highly potent and addictive opioid that’s often mixed with other drugs, but is 20 times more potent than OxyContin. Even one dose can be fatal.

And as the death toll from illicit drug overdose deaths in the province continues to rise, Gilbert’s message about fentanyl in schools is now spreading to parents.

“I am stressed for parents that are dealing with teens right now,” said Gilbert, who will be part of a panel of speakers during an upcoming parent information night at Victoria High.

“What the youth are facing today is unlike anything that they’ve had to face before with respect to illicit drugs. You just don’t know (what’s in it) unless you are a grower or a pharmaceutical producer. Your first time could be your last time.”

The number of illicit drug deaths in B.C. continues to rise each month with December numbers the highest ever recorded in a single month in the province. A total of 142 people died in December — an average of nine every two days, bringing the total number of deaths to 914 in 2016. That’s an increase of almost 80 per cent over the previous year.

Vancouver continues to be the epicentre of the crisis, with 215 deaths in 2016, followed by Surrey at 108 and Victoria at 66. More than half of the deaths were people between the ages of 30 and 49. Four out of five who died were male. It’s not yet known how many of those cases involved fentanyl.

Students at Victoria High have not been immune to the crisis. In December, 17-year-old Beth Klimek died four days before Christmas from a suspected fentanyl overdose. A friend said the teen was a recreational user of several drugs, including prescription drugs, MDMA and cocaine. She was also an honour student, who played some musical instruments before she was led astray.

According to Gilbert, there’s also been former students who’ve passed away from drug overdoses or are suffering brain damage as a result of an overdose.

Gilbert visits schools in the region on a weekly basis and talked to high school students about fentanyl from September to November. In the middle of February, he’ll be speaking with middle school students about the topic for the first time.

In an effort to illustrate how deadly fentanyl is, Gilbert brings a standard 400-mg Ibuprofen tablet, which would kill 250 adults if it was fentanyl, whenever he makes presentations about drug use to students. He then pulls out a kilogram of sugar, which would kill everyone on Vancouver Island if it was fentanyl.

So far, Gilbert said the response from students has been positive. Whether it will result in a change in attitudes remains to be seen.

“It’s Russian roulette every time you take a pill…If you’re going to do something that could possibly take your life, do it with someone around,” said Gilbert, who’s fears the 914 deaths in 2016 will pail in comparison to 2017.

“It’s scary…What I fear is we’re going to experience an episode. Maybe it’s in a 24-hour period, maybe it’s a 48-hour period where we’re going to see deaths like we’ve never seen before. There will be a bad batch of carfentanil or fentanyl mix and it’s going to devastate us.”

Police in Victoria started noticing the drug creep into the city’s drug culture in 2012, but officers are now seeing it in small amounts on a daily basis. Last fall, Victoria police seized 6,052 individual doses of a heroin/fentanyl mixture — enough to cause 725,000 possible overdoses.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Victoria High Parent Advisory Council will be holding an information night on how to talk to kids about substance use and overdose prevention. The session takes place at the Victoria High auditorium at 7 p.m. For more information email pacvichigh@gmail.com.