“I can’t believe the amount of people that have died,” Hugh Lampkin says at the beginning of Frontline Fentanyl, a new documentary about Vancouver’s overdose crisis.
The former president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) is one of several first responders the film followed for two weeks last February. It was a scary time. In the preceding months, fatal overdoses in B.C. had soared, from 63 in August to 74 in October, to 161 in December.
“We’re losing community members every day,” says Cocco Culbertson, a manager with the Portland Hotel Society, in the film. “Nothing is changing,” she adds as she begins to cry.
The documentary is scheduled to receive its first Vancouver screening on Tuesday (September 12) as part of an event happening at SFU Woodwards. There will also be a panel discussion, where participants will include Lampkin; Donald MacPherson, the executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer; and Sarah Blyth, who established Vancouver’s first unsanctioned-injection site in response to the fentanyl crisis. (I’ll be there as well, moderating the discussion.)
The 25-minute film was created by recent Ryerson University journalism graduates Brittany Spencer, Robert Foreman, Avneet Dhillon, Alex Tsui, and Behdad Mahichi
In a telephone interview, Mahichi, a freelance journalist who works with CTV News, recounted one day of filming at Blyth’s overdose-prevention site (OPS), which consists of a portable trailer where people can bring drugs to inject under the supervision of OPS staff.
“What one woman told me was that it’s a problem that’s been here for longer than people might know,” Mahichi said. “People only started to pay attention to this when it seeped into the middle class and white families, when their children at school were dying. That it was only then when people really started to care.
“She started saying, ‘We’re the disposables,’ ” Mahichi continued. “That was really unnerving, to hear her say that about herself and about her friends and the neighbourhood around her.
“It didn’t even make it into the doc, but it was one of those moments that brought everything into a different perspective.”
The Frontline Fentanyl screening and panel discussion are happening at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (149 West Hastings Street) on Tuesday (September 12), beginning at 7 p.m.