Preparing for the worst – Ski industry moves to prevent fentanyl overdoses

Dayton before he overdosed on a drug tainted by fentanyl. He was active and enjoyed the outdoors but now struggles to walk or speak. | Photo Supplied

Last fall Whitecroft resident Tate Holowatiuk got the phone call no parent wants to answer. His son Dayton had overdosed in Vancouver; fentanyl was later found to be the cause.

Dayton had struggled with substance abuse since Tate met him at the age of 15. Over the years he moved between cities and treatment centres but always found himself relapsing.
Now, over a year later, Dayton is clean but still struggles in his everyday life. He has trouble walking forward and cannot walk backward. The overdose also damaged his palette and he is in therapy to overcome Aphasia, a disorder caused by damage to the brain that renders him nearly unable to speak.

“I was ashamed…I felt like a failure as a father,” Tate said.

It’s stories like this which have galvanized the ski industry to move to protect their staff and guests as 2017 overdoses have already surpassed 2016’s staggering numbers. In what has been labelled a provincial health crisis, 914 people died by overdose last year and by this August 1,013 deaths had already been recorded. Fentanyl has been detected in 81 per cent of illicit drug deaths in B.C. this year.

At a September Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) meeting at Sun Peaks, fentanyl was an important topic to the attendees from around B.C. and the Yukon.

CWSAA president and CEO Christopher Nicolson said the conversation was continuing from last year.

“It was a reminder for the industry to be diligent,” he said. “A reminder to communities of what is available.”

According to Nicolson, the industry association took a stance against the drug with fact based information in a blunt, honest way.

“I’m pleased to say last year we took a really hard line on it…ski areas did likewise with factual presentations at orientations in a direct manner.

“It’s a very important issue, the biggest concern would be that of complacency.”

Despite the difficult circumstances, a few months after Dayton’s overdose Tate spoke out for the first time and has continued to in an effort to deter others from using drugs that may be tainted by the dangerous substance.

They will address Sun Peaks Resort LLP’s (SPR) new staff at an upcoming orientation.
Kira Haug, ASK Wellness’ harm reduction program co-ordinator will also be in the resort.

She said her training is important both to get the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone into the community and to create conversations.

“There’s a community responsibility to broach and conduct and open up communication,” Haug said. “Stigma creates isolation and isolation is a killer.”

She added that living in a community with many people travelling through could increase the chance of an overdose situation.

The synthetic opioid used to cut popular street drugs such as cocaine and MDMA cannot be smelled, seen or tasted and is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

“A ski mountain or resort is a party zone,” said Haug. “It’s (Sun Peaks is) family oriented in many regards but Friday and Saturday nights in peak season it’s also a bunch of people who want to party. We don’t know what they are bringing to our mountain and what people will distribute on the mountain. We don’t know their sources.”

As dealers continue to mix it into other drugs because it’s cheap and easy to synthesize, ski areas are faced with the challenge of keeping guests and staff safe.

Last year SPR employees received training on the injectable Naloxone kits but according to Aidan Kelly, chief marketing officer at SPR, no staff members administered the drug.
Other businesses also provided training and made kits available to staff. Some individuals posted home addresses of those with kits on social media.

This year SPR is staying alert and continuing its efforts by including information at orientation sessions and supplying the naloxone kits alongside training to ski patrollers and staff throughout other departments.

“Many of our staff are from international locations and won’t even know what the word ‘fentanyl’ means,” Kelly said.

All first responders at Sun Peaks Fire Rescue have been trained to use Naloxone and the injectable is available for them to use in case of an emergency.

Haug said she is available to help anyone with additional resources, such as training or obtaining a naloxone kit.

“Each individual that’s become a statistic or a dramatic number is somebody’s child,” she said. “There’s no real end in sight. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Tate understands that statement better than most and it’s one of the reasons he shares his family’s experience. He said he hopes that through speaking out he can potentially save a life and make up for the one Dayton will no longer lead.

“Don’t bother,” he said. “It may be your first and last time. What would your family think? There’s no right or safe way to do it.”

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