As B.C.’s drug overdose crisis continues, family and friends of two Langley teens who died as a result of the health emergency want to do something to protect other young people from the same fate.
Walnut Grove Secondary grads Preston Pearce and Alex Wilkinson, both 19, died of overdoses. Wilkinson died last year and Pearce in 2015.
Their untimely deaths rocked the Walnut Grove school community and left a large wake of loss behind that is still raw today.
That’s why a group of Grade 12 video production students decided to make a video about Alex and Preston.
The video, which can be viewed on YouTube, features family members and friends speaking about the two young men and the tragic aftermath of drug use.
It was shown to the entire school population at an assembly during drug awareness week in November 2016.
But now the families of the young men who died, and the video makers, are hoping the documentary can be used to reach more teens in Langley.
Knowledge is Power
“Knowledge is power, and I truly believe there are some amazing and wonderful people out there.
“If people are unaware [of what a drug overdose looks like] they don’t know what to look for or what to do.
“There is no fault in that — only regrets,” said Judith Cooke, Preston’s mom, who speaks on the video. She supports the idea of the video being shown in more schools.
So far, the Langley school district hasn’t been able to reach a consensus on whether to show it to other schools, said spokesperson Ken Hoff.
“I would also like to see the stigma of substance abuse, addiction and mental health viewed differently — for people to know it isn’t a weakness or a moral failing,” Preston’s mom added.
WGSS Grade 10 student Grace Wilkinson is also in the video, talking about her big brother Alex.
She, too, thinks the video could help other young people in Langley.
She described her brother as smart and loyal.
He was sensitive but goofy, too, she said.
“He was that one member of the family who could crack a joke at the perfect time to break up an awkward moment,” Grace said.
Alex was a well-rounded kid, said WGSS youth worker, Rosemary Davis.
“He could jump into any sport, but he was also really good in music, too. He wasn’t the stereotype we picture of teens using drugs,” said Davis.
Grace said she knew her brother was using drugs, but thought it was something he would get through. She didn’t talk to him about it.
Talking about his drug use may have helped Alex.
“We can’t solve the problem if no one wants to talk about it. I’m challenging people to be vulnerable with families and friends — to start talking about all of it, even if you don’t want to,” Grace said.
That’s why she was willing to be part of the drug awareness video, produced and created by students.
Video Viewed 1,700 Times
The video, found on YouTube and seen more than 1,800 times, is under “WGSS Drug Awareness,” and was created by twins Liam and Will Riley, Mckai Reschke, Brett Anderson and Tommy Gillis, with help from WGSS staff members Rosemary Davis and Darleen Kifiak.
In tackling the subject, they wanted to take a different approach.
“The scare tactic is ineffective,” said video producer, Tommy, about why he wanted to make the video.
“The ‘Don’t Use Drugs’ message doesn’t work. Every kid just switches off and stops listening,” said Grace.
This video shows the raw aftermath of losing a loved one to a drug overdose.
But these aren’t teens from another town or province. They walked the same school hallways as the video makers do.
“It hits home. It makes it real,” said Tommy.
The teens who created the video had the sensitive task of interviewing the people most affected.
Grace wants the stigma around drug use to end, so that families and friends can start talking about it openly and without judgment. She asks youth using drugs to have the courage to ask for help.
The film producers want the video to have a reach that extends beyond their school.
Trying to Make a Difference
Madison Dutkiewicz, who was close friends with Alex, wanted to be part of the video because she had vowed to try and make a difference in honour of her friend.
“Since he passed, I promised myself to get involved any way possible.
“Coming together as a community and spreading the message is so important and I want my pain to be someone else’s strength,” she said.
“The pain of losing him is the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life.”
Madison said she saw Alex declining into addiction before he died.
“As his addiction grew, he pushed me away because he didn’t want to negatively impact my life,” she said.
But, she said, he was always there for her through her tough times, and she wanted to be there for him.
Madison said that had there been a treatment facility for youth, it could have saved Alex.
“A few months before he passed, we had a conversation about what he was going through.
“He was trying to seek help but our community doesn’t have enough support for youth.”
More Support is Needed
She would like to see a facility to help youth with both mental health and addiction. Both health issues take time to treat, said Madison.
“There needs to be a safe place for teens to go, where they can heal, process and learn to cope with their addiction and/or mental illness,” she said.
Last year, the number of available youth addiction beds in the entire Fraser Health area, which encompasses Hope to Burnaby, was 10 beds.
Preston’s mom would also like to see more beds and more counseling available for those who want help.
The provincial government is promising that 32 more substance use beds for young people up to age 25 will open this year. But with an election coming in May, it’s unclear what will happen.
The overdose death crisis that has surged in Metro Vancouver, killed more than 900 people in 2016, hitting males age 19 to 30 the hardest.
An average of four people a day are dying from drug overdoses in B.C.
This epidemic is hurting families in all income brackets, said the B.C. Coroner Services.