As part of a special series, Global News is exploring the struggles of those living on the Downtown Eastside. In part one, a Vancouver man’s journey from Hollywood to Hastings shows how hard it is to get out of a cycle of addiction.
Bernie Coulson has been called a genius.
The Vancouver-born actor and producer was a key character in the 1988 Hollywood blockbuster The Accused opposite Oscar winner Jodie Foster and appeared in shows from The X-Files to Intelligence.
But the man who once shared an apartment with Brad Pitt in Los Angeles now lives in the V6A, one of the poorest postal codes in Canada.
The once rising star, now in his late 50s, has a new role: trying to stay alive on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
In a chance meeting with Global News near Main and Hastings in October, Coulson explains how he’s snorting government-issued drugs through a straw as he waits to get into treatment.
“I’m so lucky this last time. Six months ago when I overdosed, that was it. It was final and it scared the living crap out of me and I don’t want to go back there,” he said.
“I really don’t want that anymore. I just want to be me, which was crack a few cold ones after work.”
When asked whether he wants to stay on safe supply, he says no and that it is “not so safe.”
Coulson is determined not to become another coroner statistic revealed in a monthly press release. More than 10,000 people have died in B.C. from a toxic drug supply since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.
Giuseppe Ganci describes how he felt when his friend Don Presland was dying from an overdose.
“When I got to the hospital, that’s when I got mad. I got really mad,” said Ganci, the director of community development for Last Door Recovery Society in New Westminster.
“Donnie was in this hospital. He’s got all these nurses, (intensive care unit) people, machines. He’s got everything because he’s dying and they were waiting to pull the plug.”
Ganci tells Global News Presland didn’t have the money to pay for private addiction services and a government-funded bed with all the supports was unavailable when he needed them.
He estimated the rough cost of Presland’s hospital stay for less than a week was more than $10,000.
“The system is put where when someone is overdosing and dying, it’s red carpet treatment. Here’s the ambulance. Here’s the hospital. Here’s the services,” he said.
“But the minute you get well and you come out of your overdose and you say ‘I need help,’ oh well, get in line, go on welfare, how much money do you make? It completely changes.”
Back on the Downtown Eastside, Coulson receives some terrible news. A good friend’s brother passed away from an overdose.
Meanwhile, Coulson remains ready for rehab.
“This is my choice to go. I’ve been 17 times before for other people. So I want to do it this time. I’ve got nothing to hide and I’m going to make the best of it.”