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We need to make change in mental health and addiction and in police policy: letter

Regarding the published public IIO report in the Campbell River Mirror on March 17th regarding a man who overdosed in police custody on June 23rd 2022.

Regarding the published public IIO report in the Campbell River Mirror on March 17th regarding a man who overdosed in police custody on June 23rd 2022.

This “man” was my 20-year-old son, just short of his 21st birthday. This man did have a name. Santos.

Santos had a family and friends who loved him. Santos was artistic, athletic, loved music, was fashion savvy, and wanted to become a fashion designer and rapper. His struggle with mental health was bigger than him. We spent years trying to get the help he needed. Over the years there were lots of diagnosis but no solutions. He was described as being complex, and as having an invisible wheelchair. Nothing seemed to be available to help him.

READ MORE: Changes needed to battle mental health and addiction crisis: mother of victim

Santos’s struggled with mental health and in the last year addiction to the poison on the streets became more and more difficult. The resources to help him were just not there. He did get housing at the Q’waxsem Place on Dogwood and was doing well. He was kicked out and then allowed back, but he was incapable of following the rules. Although the initiative is fantastic they are not equipped or have the funding to deal with mental health, addiction issues or to teach life skills, he was finally kicked out for the last time and back out to the streets.

He was placed in Comox mental health twice and both times was released after 3 days because he was not psychotic. No amount of me screaming that he was a danger to himself and potentially others was put into account.

He was very well known in the CR community amongst the outreach persons and to police who were all trying their best to help him, especially given his multiple overdoses. He did agree to go to treatment and was finally accepted to the Red Fish Healing Center for Mental Health and Addiction in Coquitlam and we were told that there would be a 9 to 12 month wait. We all knew this would in most likelihood be a fatal situation. People were dying at that time 6 per day in BC because of toxic drug overdoses.

On June 21st I received a call that there was a bed for him at Red Fish. I needed to have him there on the 23rd of June. He was going to treatment. We were all excited at this opportunity. Finally he would be safe and off the streets. I made arrangements to get him there, I tried to find him on the evening of the 22nd with the help of some outreach persons but we were unable to locate him. We did know that he had received his disability cheque and that he was probably indulging. There was an alert of the very bad toxicity of the drugs on the street that week. We were frantic to find him.

I looked for him again early in the morning on the 23rd knowing that I had to be on the road to Coquitlam by 8:30 at the latest to make the 1:30 deadline I was given to get him there. Finally found him around 10:30 and he was a mess. I took him to one of the teams we were working with and they let me know that the bed had already been given away. In all the confusion and given Santos’s state it was decided it would be best to have him arrested so he would be safe until all this mess was sorted out and I could start again in the morning. A fatal decision.

I am not writing to place blame. I am writing to give “man” a name and a story and to make change at how intoxicated persons are taken care of when put in police custody. We are seven years into a provincial public heath crisis of toxic drugs that has seen the death toll rise exponentially since it’s inception in 2016. Since that time 11,171 human beings have died and counting. We are now at a death toll of seven persons a day.

There were couple of important items omitted in this article that are in the public IIO report. One was that Santos was found to have poor balance, slurred speech and a sleepy demeanor when arrested. I know he had drug paraphernalia on him so it was quite evident that he had been using and I had explained to dispatch the situation and that he had just used in front of me. The other omission in this article is that not only drugs were “smuggled” into his cell but also a butane lighter and a small circular container and a brown substance later being identified as fentanyl and benzodiazepine. How does that happen?

There is more to this story and obviously we need to do better. There is poison out on our streets that is affecting everyone. This drug is so powerful it overtakes any rational thought. As my friend and outreach doctor has said, this drug hijacks the brain. We need to make change in mental health and addiction and in police policy when dealing with intoxicated persons. There are so many gaps within our system that falling through the cracks (gapping holes in my humble opinion) is so easy for those suffering from any kind of mental illness and or addiction to get lost and or die.

I will never be able to have my son back, but I am determined to initiate change where I can.

A devastated mother,

Chantal Costaz