Overcoming fear and fentanyl in B.C.
Two survivors of addiction share their stories and offer a voice of hope for those looking to get clean
By Tom Eley and Clarissa Kurniawan
The stories that include fentanyl usually consist of death, overdose and danger, always painting the bleak landscape that this drug has facilitated.
This is not that story.
Kevin Parker, who has been clean from all substances for 14 years, said that his recovery journey would likely be for the rest of his life.
“I was sentenced to a bunch of time in prison. And then, in 2009, when I was released, I was released to a treatment centre as part of a condition from the parole office,” Parker said.
“I got clean, and I have been clean ever since, like, I’m abstinent. I don’t use substances whatsoever.”
Parker now works in the harm reduction centre but said he still sees people dying from fentanyl poisoning.
“I’m losing friends. I’m losing clients. I’m losing coworkers. I’m losing, you know, close family friends,” he said.
However, Parker said he was not a big fentanyl user as the stuff was not around when using opiates.
“It was heroin. It wasn’t fentanyl. It was built way safer. Because you know, you knew what you were getting,” he said.
The difference between fentanyl and the other substances is that fentanyl is mixed in with other drugs, and you have no idea what it is you are taking, Parker said.
Parker’s story is echoed by Guy Felicella, who said he was initially addicted to heroin, but unlike his fellow brother in recovery, he could not escape the wrath of fentanyl.
“I overdosed six times in nine months. So yeah, it impacted me quite a bit,” Felicella said.
He said that his use of heroin had been a 20-year addiction but had never overdosed once during that time, which changed in 2013 when he first started using fentanyl.
“I was using drugs to function because I didn’t have any support for underlying issues of trauma, homelessness, and low self-worth and self-esteem,” he said.
Felicella said that fentanyl was much more potent than heroin, but the shorter half-life of the drug would cause him to use the substance more and more.
“Fentanyl was extremely powerful. But it didn’t last as long as heroin. So I found myself having to use it repeatedly,” he said.
Felicella said he now has close to a decade of sobriety and tries to help people like him struggle to clean.
“I think people feel a sense of shame because of reaching out to say you’re struggling. They feel it’s a weakness when in actual reality, it’s a huge strength,” he said.
The best advice he said is to stay away from these substances altogether but that is not the challenge he and others in the harm reduction sector face.
“There’s cross-contaminated substances now. So even people who are using other drugs don’t know that there’s fentanyl in it,” he said.
Parker said he thinks this challenge is that you never really know what you’re getting with the fentanyl. “And it’s, you know, it’s super potent,” he said.
He said that the physical sensation that comes with the drug can be incredibly dangerous and can slow your heart and breathing rate completely.
“I always say to people, don’t use it alone because you never know,” said Felicella.
But Felicella said he wants people to know that it is not all doom and gloom and that for those trying to reach out, there is strength in that action alone.
“The strength is, reaching out, and you try to share that with people, that’s the most important thing you can do. And it’s a good strength to have,” he said.