Judy was always Derek Peach’s little girl, even when she turned 50 years old.
Judy would often jump into his arms for a big hug, even as an adult. But now the 75-year-old Esquimalt resident only has memories of the daughter he loved so much, after Judy died from a drug overdose earlier this year.
Derek is part of Moms Stop the Harm, a network of people whose loved loves have died of an overdose or suffer from addiction.
The network, along with No More Drug War Victoria, will be hosting an event in Centennial Square on Monday, July 31 at 5 p.m. to remember those who have been lost in the province’s overdose crisis. As part of the event, a memorial photo of friends and families will taken and shared on social media.
Derek remembers Judy as someone who knew every joke, and was determined to make her mark the world. She also loved animals, so much so that she would sometimes be late for school because she stopped to pet all the animals along the way.
But it wasn’t until 1998 that her years-long battle with addiction began.
Judy was with friends in Courtenay with she fell three storeys from a balcony and landed on the grass below, injuring her neck. She was in rehab and physiotherapy for about a year and was trying to get back to work, when doctors prescribed her morphine to help ease the pain. Eventually, the dosage wasn’t enough and Judy began to self-medicate and dabble in street drugs.
During that time, Derek remained close with Judy, her husband and their then five-year-old son. He’d often drive up to visit, took ski tips to Mount Washington and went fishing with the young family.
Despite her husband’s efforts to get Judy clean, Derek said the addiction took control and her world began to spiral. She distanced herself from her family, moved back to Victoria and eventually found herself on the streets.
Derek would see her at Christmas and on her birthday, but admitted he often didn’t know where she was. It was only after her new partner died from an overdose and Judy was hospitalized for a cocaine binge that she decided she needed to get clean.
Settling in with her mother and sister in Nanaimo, she entered rehab and it seemed to Derek that she had gotten her life on track, helping on her sister’s farm, acting in local plays and “making a difference.”
But then she had to move into a trailer on her own, and Derek believes the isolation pushed her to start using again.
On Jan. 27, when Judy missed the opening night of a play she was performing in, the director called police. Judy, 50, was found dead in her trailer.
“You feel devastated and everything floods in, and it floods in for weeks and months afterward,” Derek said.
While the details of his daughter’s death are unknown to Derek, he suspects she was nervous about performing and decided to take something to calm her down. An coroner’s report later found whatever she took was laced with fentanyl, Derek said.
Months after her death, Derek still wakes in the night thinking of the small things he could have done differently that might have changed Judy’s path.
“If I wake up at 3 a.m. in the morning, I’m still thinking what should I have done when I knew she was having trouble in school? Why didn’t I buy her that thing in Grade 5, maybe that would have helped with her self-esteem,” Derek said.
But Derek isn’t the only parent who has lost a child to the overdose crisis.
Leslie McBain’s son, Jordan, became addicted to opioids after doctors prescribed him Oxycontin to ease the pain of a back injury. He died of an overdose in February 2014. McBain hopes Monday’s event, which leads up to International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, will help end the stigma around addiction.
“People will hopefully see this photograph and see a couple of things – a lot of people who have lived experience, a whole spectrum of people from First Nations to people who are marginalized to moms to dads to front line workers – the whole span of people who are working hard in Victoria to mitigate the opioid crisis,” said the Pender Island resident and one of the founders of Moms Stop the Harm, which has since ballooned from three people to roughly 250 in recent years.
“My hope is the stigma will be reduced.”
In May, B.C. recorded 129 suspected drug overdose deaths. Forty-one people in Victoria have died due to illicit drug overdoses so far this year.