Coroner Liana Wright has seen a lot in her 21 years with the Fraser Region Coroner Service. The fentanyl crisis, however, has set a new precedent, taking her to uncharted territory.
CKNW’s Liza Yuzda spoke with Wright about the families affected by these deaths, the stigma surrounding the crisis, and the role coroners have in this epidemic.
LISTEN: Fentanyl crisis is not just a DTES problem
“It’s been frightening. I’ve done this work a very long time. I, over the years, have met with countless numbers of families at death scenes and the absolute and immense sadness of these deaths and the loss of what the future promised for their loved one – the lives left unlived and the feeling that we really walk away with that we weren’t able to change what happened.”
But Wright warns that if you think there is a stereotype of the people dying – of addicts or people living on the street – she says you need to think again…
“They are your neighbours’ kids, they are the kids that you’ve gone to church with. They’re the people in our community who may have gone out on a Friday evening and bought one of the fake Oxycontin tablets that we know fentanyl is present in and have taken it along with maybe a couple of drinks and then that brings about the coroner showing up at their bedroom the following morning when they are discovered by their mother.”
Wright says CPR may be given actively in the DTES or on the street somewhere, but she says as Coroners, many of the deaths they attend are in someone’s bedroom. She says this is more common than people think.
And even though as coroners, they arrive after all hope is lost, she says helping those that stay behind keeps her going.
“First responders do have an opportunity to save a life. By the time we attend, of course, that life, is lost. So, it’s very finite, the work that we do and I find for myself personally, where we get the motivation and the satisfaction, if you will, to continue the very important work that we do is that we can assist families in providing them with very critical information that they require to move forward with the horrific loss they’ve suffered.”
Meanwhile, the escalating death toll has placed strenuous demands on morgues and hospitals.
“It has been a very big challenge for us when we are at the scene and a family member turns to you and says where are you taking my son? I have to actually step aside and say, you know, give me a few moments because I have to make some calls because we are, more often than not, at capacity at all of our morgues in the lower mainland.”
What keeps Wright and her team going is the belief that they are a small army doing very important work.
“I have met the most amazing and kindest people under the worst circumstances…I can tell you that it doesn’t get any easier as time goes by.”