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Drugs

A Canadian Funeral Home Is Using Coffins to Scare Kids From Using Fentanyl

But a chief coroner is calling out the fear-mongering campaign.

by Manisha Krishnan
04 December 2017, 7:11pm

A BC funeral home is being called out for a “controversial” campaign that includes bringing hearses and caskets to schools to scare kids from using fentanyl.

Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services says it created its fentanyl prevention program in response to BC’s devastating fentanyl crisis. There were 914 illicit drug overdose deaths in the province that involved fentanyl from January to September 2017.

The Alternatives program, first announced in October, includes a 45-minute presentation for kids and teens that includes showing the audience a hearse and casket “reinforcing the fact that a decision to use drugs can, and frequently does, lead to death,” according to the company’s website. Another segment consists of reading aloud a letter from the father of a child who overdosed and died “pointing out that the decision to use drugs doesn’t hurt only the user; it hurts the entire family, especially should that decision lead to a death from drug overdose.”

An advertisement for the campaign depicts a funeral with the tagline “will fentanyl be the reason for your next family get-together?”

Alternatives owner Tyrel Burton said in a news release the initiative is about “harm prevention.”

“Our funeral home alone serves four to five families a month who have had a loved one die due to a drug overdose. Frequently that drug is fentanyl. We felt that we had to do something to reach teens and young adults before they become addicted,” Burton said. “We greatly admire the many committed health professionals and emergency paramedical staff who deal daily with those addicted to drugs—most of which are laced with fentanyl. But where the emphasis in those cases is on harm reduction, our focus is on harm prevention.”

However, an op-ed penned by BC’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe over the weekend said the campaign and others like it often do more harm than good.

“They tend to increase the stigma surrounding drug use and actually discourage people from seeking help—an obsolete approach that has led to the loss of countless lives,” Lapointe wrote, noting the BC Coroners Service does not endorse the program.

Lapointe said anti-drug programs like D.A.R.E and “Just Say No” have been massive, costly failures. What's needed, she wrote, is evidence-based approaches, which is why BC has taken to releasing detailed stats on illicit drug overdoses and deaths.

When it comes to ads, Lapointe said depictions of drug paraphernalia can be triggering and prompt the desire to use.

Lapointe also brought the message back to harm reduction, and the reality that some people may not necessarily be ready to stop using, but those people still deserve help.

“In the long run, compassion and support, including prescribed medical treatment where appropriate, will be much more effective in turning this crisis around than fear and shame.”

Toronto and Ottawa have recently been following Vancouver’s lead in opening up safe drug consumption sites, with the idea of preventing overdose deaths. Many overdose deaths occur when people are using alone.

Alternatives has not yet responded to VICE’s request for comment. But the company isn't alone in offering a fear-based anti-drug campaign. Recently, a licensed cannabis producer called Beleave launched an anti-stoned driving campaign, using three made up “consequence strains” of weed: Kourtroom Kush, White Whiplash, and Slammer Time to deter people from driving high.

Experts told VICE the campaign seemed thin on actual evidence and likely won't be effective.

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