Popular Nelson busker Sarah Valiunas' cause of death attributed to fentanyl

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      A Nelson musician popular around town for her street performances died of a fentanyl overdose last summer.

      Sarah Valiunas was 26 years old when she passed away last August, according to an obituary that was originally published in the Toronto Star.

      “Free spirit, traveller, wit, fearless adventurer, excellent musician, loyal friend, she leaves so many of us in tears and yet happy to have had the privilege to have known her in her short life,” it reads.

      A memorial was held in September but the exact cause of death was not known until recently.

      CBC News has published a moving tribute to the artist.

      Valiunas died in Toronto after she moved there to work in harm reduction and with at-risk youth last July. But the article recalls her as a “staple” of Nelson’s street-music scene and a “beautiful voice” who was well-known and liked around the southeastern B.C. town.

      “The community of young musicians Sarah belonged to is disappearing,” CBC’s story reads. “Her partner Josh Parsons, a musician she met while travelling three years ago, died of a fentanyl overdose in Vancouver in March.

      “Her singing partner Jessica Ashley-Jones has had a hard time busking without her friend. Between Sarah and Josh, she's lost two of her best friends this year.

      “Really, our community is losing people every week,” the article continues, quoting Ashley-Jones. “With so much loss all the time, we are just stuck in this cycle of grief, and nowhere to put that.”

      B.C. is on track to record more than 1,500 illicit-drug overdose deaths this year, slightly up from 1,450 fatal overdoses in 2017 and miles above 993 deaths in 2016, 526 the year before that, and 368 fatal overdoses 2014.

      Ontario is also experiencing a sharp rise in overdose deaths. There were 1,265 fatal overdoses there in 2017, up from 867 the year before and 728 in 2015. (Ontario's population is about three times that of B.C.'s)

      Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid significantly more dangerous than heroin, has been associated with the deaths of several famous musicians in recent years. They include Prince, Tom Petty, and younger up-and-comers like Lil Peep and Mac Miller.

      In lieu of flowers, Valiunas’ family has asked that donations be made to RainCity Housing, a nonprofit government partner that mostly works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

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