The father of a 31-year-old man who died after he unknowingly took a drug laced with an opioid says the language around overdose deaths needs to change.
Joe Fourre says his son Harlan and his friends, who were at an establishment in The Pas 625 km north of Winnipeg, thought they were taking the party drug Ecstasy – not an opioid.
He says people thought his son was an addict after hearing the news which wasn’t the case. He says the language around cases like his son’s needs to change from overdose to poisoning.
While there’s been a dramatic increase in overdose deaths in Manitoba in the last number of years, Fourre says the numbers are just part of the story.
“I think it was 467 deaths last year, double from 2019… but those numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he says. “The numbers don’t tell us how many of those were one and done, trying it for the first time.”
Family and friends of Harlan have been tending a sacred fire for him since he died after being removed from life support.
Now, as they prepare for his funeral, his father is hoping his son’s death will spark change.
“I take comfort in knowing that his journey was well-lit. You know, having the music, the drum playing, on a constant knowing that he had the songs of our ancestors to listen to as he walked to the other side.”
Six other people also took the tainted drugs on April 22 but recovered. The incident in The Pas and another in Thompson, 400 km northwest, prompted Manitoba RCMP to put out a warning of toxic drugs circulating in the community.
“The idea is to get that message across that if you do take it, be careful what you have right now, because… we don’t want to lose anymore,” said Sgt. Paul Manaigre who is in charge of media relations for the RCMP in Manitoba.
Harm reduction workers in The Pas, like Krista Tooley, are urging caution.
“Start low, go slow, use with a friend, stagger your use, get your substance tested,” Tooley told APTN News.
Tooley said they’re posting on social media and including warnings in fentanyl test kits.
Fourre says there should be harsher penalties for those trafficking in fentanyl.
“I think mandatory sentencing needs to be put in place. We need to make this as unattractive as possible to sell this drug. I know they have mandatory sentencing for cocaine, which probably doesn’t kill as many people as fentanyl does.”
Harlan Fourre’s Indigenous name was “Singing Red Bear” and Joe hopes his son’s death will carry the message far that with fentanyl, one time may be too many.
“It’s time for that voice that he left us behind with to sing loudly to educate others that it’s okay to say no thanks, and we need to start saying no thanks,” he says.
The funeral for Harlan Fourre is Saturday. The casket of the Winnipeg Jets fan will bear a custom star blanket with the team’s logo.
For Joe, he hopes people will remember his son not for the way he died, but for how he lived.
“I’m very proud of my son, he was a really good man. He didn’t deserve this.”