‘Heart-wrenching’: Toxic drug crisis claims record number of lives in Nanaimo, surpassing Victoria


At 47, Nanaimo’s Dale Hynes says he’s finally had enough of drug addiction and wants detox, but has been told he has to wait a week to get in.

“How badly do you want to go in?” CHEK News asked Hynes on Friday.

“Right away, like instantly. If they say I could go right now, I’d go right now,” said Hynes.

The father of eight was released after serving serving months in jail in February, and returned to Nanaimo’s streets to learn that 57 of his friends and fellow drug users had died of overdoses over the time he was inside.

“Oh, it was heart-wrenching. I could barely function. Fifty-seven really close friends too,” said Hynes.

According to the BC Coroners Service, there were 112 toxic drug deaths in Nanaimo in 2023, which marks a record 43 per cent increase from deaths in 2022.

“Everyone is becoming overwhelmed in Nanaimo, the CSO’s are being overwhelmed, the ambulances are becoming overwhelmed, and it’s a regular basis that things are happening and it becomes too much,” said Gord Fuller, a frontline worker with the Nanaimo 7-10 Club.

The 7-10 Club operates a downtown warming centre on Victoria Road, and Fuller says new faces are coming in all the time as the opioid crisis hooks more people from every walk of life.

“There’s even worse drugs coming. There’s worse stuff out there,” said Fuller.

The BC Coroners Service recorded 198 deaths from toxic drugs in the province in January, and for the first time, Nanaimo surpassed Victoria, and trailed only Vancouver and Surrey for highest number of overdose deaths.

SEE ALSO: 198 people died in January due to unregulated drugs: BC Coroner

Fuller says – in addition to safer supply and consumption sites in Nanaimo – more treatment beds and housing needs to be fast-tracked to get people clean and off the streets as soon as they’re ready for it.

“The potential has to be there as quickly as possible, otherwise we’ll continue to see death rates as high as they are. There will be no change,” said Fuller.

Yet, Hynes says he will be using drugs while he’s waiting for detox, even knowing more than ever now, that each time could be his last.

Skye Ryan

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