Advertisement

Okanagan mothers paint valley purple in honour of sons who died of drug overdoses

Tyler Robinson (left) and Nicholas Stevens (right) died of drug overdoses in the B.C. Southern Interior in 2016 and 2017.
Tyler Robinson (left) and Nicholas Stevens (right) died of drug overdoses in the B.C. Southern Interior in 2016 and 2017. Submitted

Mothers who lost their children to drug addiction in B.C.’s Okanagan are sharing their stories and painting the valley purple to mark International Overdose Awareness Day on Monday.

Jill McCullum’s son, Nicholas Stevens, was 27 years old when he died of an overdose on March 27, 2017 at a motel room in Penticton.

Stevens developed post-traumatic stress disorder and an opioid addiction after returning home from Afghanistan where he served in the military, the Oliver resident said.

Read more: Illicit drug deaths in B.C. higher than homicides, car crashes, suicide, COVID-19 combined: report

“He lost two very close friends from his group to military enemy fire in Afghanistan,” McCullum said. “One was an improvised explosive device and the other from a suicide bombing of a bus.”

Story continues below advertisement

She said she noticed a dramatic change in him upon his return home.

“It was like a light had gone out in his eyes. At first, I put it down to the struggle of re-adjusting.”

The Oliver, B.C., chapter of Moms Stop the Harm
The Oliver, B.C., chapter of Moms Stop the Harm. Submitted

Stevens was prescribed opioids to cope with his PTSD, she said, and he experienced side effects including depression, anxiety and insomnia.

At the end of 2016, he was admitted to a rehabilitation centre in the East Kootenay to receive treatment for his drug addiction, but succumbed to substance abuse months later.

Read more: B.C. reports more than 100 illicit drug deaths for second straight month

McCullum joined the group Moms Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian families impacted by drug addiction, to advocate for change to drug policies and provide peer support to grieving families.

Story continues below advertisement

Ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, she joined other members of the group to decorate the town with purple ribbons to draw attention to the overdose crisis in B.C.

“Today is about grief and it’s about love,” she told Global News.

Sherry Robinson placed purple ribbons around Salmon Arm, B.C., to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.
Sherry Robinson placed purple ribbons around Salmon Arm, B.C., to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. Submiited

Up in the Shuswap region, Sherry Robinson of Salmon Arm also placed purple ribbons around her community to honour her son, Tyler, who died of fentanyl poisoning in January 2016.

“I decided I cannot remain silent and in shame and isolated anymore. It is just too overwhelming.”

Her 23-year-old son did not receive the services he needed to recover from addiction, Robinson said.

Read more: ‘I’ve been brought back to life six times’: How a B.C. man escaped the Downtown Eastside alive

Story continues below advertisement

“He had just left a recovery support centre after some abstinence, and that is a very dangerous time to relapse,” she said. “It was right at the height of when the opioid health crisis was declared a provincial emergency.”

The province made that declaration in April 2016.

The drug epidemic has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, and B.C. is once again recording a record-high number of deaths due to illicit drugs.

There were 175 such deaths recorded in July, marking the fifth consecutive month where provincial totals surpassed triple digits.

More than 900 people in B.C. have died from illicit drug overdoses so far this year.