Six years ago, Dr. Perry Kendall — then B.C.’s chief public health officer — declared a public health emergency due to the escalating number of overdose deaths in the province.
Talking recently about the announcement, Kendall said it was “meant to bring public and political attention to the emerging crisis.”
But while he says he has seen some progress on the issue, it has not been enough to save thousands of lives from toxic drugs.
“We have seen a shocking, unacceptable and unconscionable increase in the number of deaths,” Kendall said.
According to the B.C. Coroners Service, more than 9,400 people across the province have now died from ingesting toxic, illicit drugs over the past six years.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says while there are some patterns — such as people using alone, and a higher number of deaths among men aged 30 to 59 years old — victims of the crisis come from all walks of life.
Lapointe says there is a misconception that the only people at risk are regular drug users. In fact, she says, many are first-time or casual users who think they are purchasing a certain drug only to get something contaminated with fentanyl or other, even more lethal, substances.
“The drugs are indiscriminate,” she said.
“We are just seeing lives being lost month after month, year after year. It is heartbreaking.”
The victims of the crisis range from teenagers to seniors, and include athletes, musicians and academics.
On the sixth anniversary of the public health crisis being declared, here are the stories of six victims of B.C.’s toxic drug crisis.
A youth care advocate
Katherine McParland was homeless at age 19. A foster child, she had lived in 28 different homes before aging out of the system. Despite her difficult start, she went on to earn a master’s degree in social work leadership.
She then founded A Way Home Kamloops, a program aimed at ending youth homelessness, and served on numerous boards and advisory committees that sought to help children dealing with the same problems she had growing up.
“She had this enduring positivity that always struck me as something I wish I had more of,” said her friend Amy Peterson. “Watching her grow and blossom was honestly my pleasure.”
On Dec. 5, 2020, McParland was found dead, lying on her back on the floor of her Kamloops home. The coroner confirmed her death was the result of a mixture of fentanyl and etizolam found in her system. She was 33.
The young Flash
Logan Williams grew up in Coquitlam but was soon seen around the world.
He started acting at age 10 and played the younger version of the DC Comics superhero Barry Allen in CW Network’s The Flash, and also had roles in the series Supernatural and When Calls the Heart.
His mother, Marlyse Williams, described him as “an energetic kid who loved music, acting and sports” before he started using drugs — something he tried to quit but was unable to do.
He overdosed on fentanyl while staying in a group facility on April 2, 2020, days before his 17th birthday.
A Vancouver sports writer
Jason Botchford grew up in Aurora, Ont., and started his journalism career at the Toronto Sun before relocating to B.C., where he covered the NHL for more than a decade. He wrote for The Province from 2005 to 2018, blending his analysis of Vancouver Canucks games with humorous commentary and inside jokes.
He then became a senior writer with The Athletic and frequently appeared on TSN radio and television.
A father of three young children, Botchford died after accidentally overdosing on cocaine and fentanyl on April 25, 2019, at the age of 48.
“We were completely shocked and in disbelief to discover the cause of Jason’s sudden death. The cause does not change who Jason was to all of us but just makes his death that much harder to comprehend,” wrote his wife, Kathryn Botchford, at the time.
A 12-year-old girl
Allayah Thomas was just 11 years old when she started experimenting with drugs. Her family says they tried to get her help but were told she was too young to qualify for rehab services.
Allayah’s mother, Adriana Londono, said she had her daughter when she was 19 and struggled with her own substance abuse issues, which made it hard to help her child.
“I haven’t been helped for my problems, so I felt, how can I help her? I can’t even help myself,” she said.
Londono called her daughter sweet and loving and said she wanted to be a makeup-artist when she grew up.
Allayah died April 14, 2021, after overdosing at a friends’ home on Vancouver Island. She was 12.
An amateur boxer
Joe Walker moved back home to his family home in Victoria just after his 25th birthday, seeking support for his addiction to heroin and crystal meth.
His mother, Janice Walker, said he was doing “incredibly well” and was working hard to stay drug free.
A passionate athlete, Walker was an amateur boxer who had tried treatment before.
“He was reaching out to people. Just happy to be alive and he felt that he had beat it,” his mother said.
But after finding evidence of heroin and mairjuana in his bedroom, Walker packed her son’s suitcase and told him he had to go if he was going to continue using.
“The last words he said to me were, ‘Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not going to die,'” she said.
His body was found in an unfinished garage on Dec. 13, 2017. Toxicology testing confirmed a fentanyl overdose.
An animal lover
Olivia Dalton loved animals. Her parents say she was kind, generous and funny.
“Anyone that knew her, absolutely loved her,” said mother Lisa Dalton.
But her personality changed when she started using heroin in high school in Langley, causing her to become violent and uninterested in the world around her.
Eventually, Olivia agreed to enter addictions counselling, costing the family more than $100,000. But Olivia thrived, managing to stay sober for more than a year.
Then, the pandemic hit and her group meetings were cancelled. She relapsed, lost her job and was soon isolated, using alone in her apartment.
That’s where her body was found on Oct. 22, 2020.
“My whole world just crushed at that moment,” said her father, John Butler.
“She was only 21 … She didn’t deserve this.”