A member of the Penticton Indian Band is sharing his story about the loss of his 22-year-old son to a fentanyl-related drug overdose, in the hopes of saving other families from unbearable grief.
Timmothy Lezard said his son, Aaron Lezard, died on June 6th in the family home.
His family and friends gathered at a memorial site on Friday to mark International Overdose Awareness day.
“I just don’t want people to go through what me and my family went through,” Lezard said on Tuesday.
“You don’t want to see your child on the ground getting chest compressions and having the AED. You don’t want to have those memories.”
The Interior Health Authority (IHA) said it could not provide specific data for suspected fatal drug overdoses on the Penticton Indian Band reserve, but said nine people died this year in the Penticton-area, and 13 people in all of 2017.
WATCH BELOW: Tim Lezard talks at length about losing his son.
Across the Okanagan Valley, the IHA said 82 people died this year from suspected drug overdoses, and 153 people in all of 2017.
In June, following Aaron Lezard’s death, the Penticton Indian Band issued a statement that said it was moving towards its goal of becoming a drug and alcohol free reserve.
“Those that sell drugs to our members will be met with the full force of a community that is not willing to accept this behaviour and will use everything at its means to stop any and all drug activity.”
The statement was slim on details and PIB administration did not respond to a request for comment on measures that have been taken to stem the drug overdose crisis.
Anna Tonasket is the manager for the South Okanagan Restorative Justice program at the En’owkin Centre on the PIB reserve.
She said the educational facility offers a 13-week ‘wellbrioty’ program involving a spiritual and holistic approach to recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
“We don’t just look at a person’s addiction; we also try to help them and work them through with the help of a workbook and CDs,” she said.
Tonasket said the community is shaken by the loss of Lezard.
“It has a ripple effect because he is related to a majority of the people within the Penticton Indian Band community,” she said. “People are still reeling and are being personally impacted by that.”
Tonasket said the centre encourages youth to reconnect with their roots.
“We’re trying to encourage our youth to reconnect to their cultural backgrounds because we know that when a person is grounded in who they are and where they come from, the chances or the risks are then reduced,” she said.
Denise Lecoy is the mental health and wellness lead for the Penticton Indian Band.
She said there’s been 22 ‘close calls’ of suspected overdoses not resulting in deaths over the past three to six months, but there could be more.
When an overdose patient is taken to hospital, the critical response team with the Okanagan national alliance responds if the family gives permission. This is the only way they can track the figures.
She said the root cause of drug use stems from systemic issues.
“Whether it is a whole family that’s been struggling over their own grief and lost, poverty is definitely a big struggle for people; more systemic struggles related to historical factors that we continue to try and keep up,” she said.
From a health perspective, Lecoy said staff take a harm reduction approach and focus on developing meaningful and trusting relationships with band members.