Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday June 22, 2020.

A parent’s worst nightmare is without a doubt the death of their child. More so when the death was preventable.

My eldest mentioned on Friday a teenager in Kamloops had suffered a fatal overdose and like every parent out there, I hoped it was just rumours. There was nothing in the news because as we all know, news on social media travels a lot faster.

Sadly, the rumours turned out to be true. A family in Kamloops is living that worst nightmare right now.

This heartbreaking story caused a hot debate on social media about which drugs could be laced with fentanyl and which one the teenager used. It also showed once again that the stigma is real and ugly, no matter the age of the victim. Throwing blame or judgment is simply heartless. For as long as drug stigma exists, there will be people dying unnecessarily.

Of course, we should all talk to our kids about substance use and I hope that most parents do. Many parents, myself included, thought these conversations should happen when our kids enter high school. A wise friend who has been working in school long enough told me, and she was right, that by then it is too late.

Grade 8 students are known to try very hard to fit in and look mature, and often times they do that by trying all drugs they can get their hands on.

Drugs are being sold to kids all over town, in schools included, and there are way too many snapshots of drug use on social media; too much bragging about who did what kind.

I have learned on many occasions that some parents supply their kids with ‘safe’ drugs for fear of them buying from illegal sources. The thing is, there is no safe drug. Even more so when we’re talking about kids using them, as their brains are still developing and that alone is a high risk. Boundaries are already a troublesome concept for teens and teenagers, without the confusion of ‘safe’ drugs.

And then, there is this huge thing: the dealers.

On June 19, Interior Health issued a warning about cocaine contaminated with fentanyl and phenacetin (pain reliever and carcinogen) in the Kamloops area. That means, someone is selling tainted drugs in the community as we speak, which is horrifying.

Someone is selling drugs, to children included. Someone is peddling death as we speak. They are also recruiting kids who will sell to their peers.

The question is: what happens to these people once they are identified and arrested? What is the punishment for drug dealing, and more so, for dealing to children? Because that alone reflects our judicial system’s concern for what these activities represent: A horrible crime against the most vulnerable amongst us. The punishment should fit the crime. Period.

As for helping those who are at risk, our health system needs to figure out ways to help. The options for teenagers at risk are limited. And yes, the stigma, that’s a big one. It gets in the way of helping and it gets in the way of compassion.

We need to figure out how to eliminate it because once we do, we will be able to treat substance abuse as a health issue and thus help prevent future tragedies. And let’s include here mental health too, because often times they are connected, and unfortunately, equally stigmatized.