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An epidemic of drug overdoses has claimed more than 20,000 Canadians since 2016 — about the same number of victims as the coronavirus. Here, The Globe puts names and faces to those we lost, taking them out of the shadows of grief and shame

Early in the morning on Feb. 15, 2020, Brad and Debbie Dalke received a phone call. After several successful attempts to overcome his opioid addiction over the years, their son Brady had once more relapsed, this time with tragic consequences. He had succumbed to a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Brady was 25 years old.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Brady was a person who had deeper hurt inside him that he just didn’t know how to cope with.

And he didn’t know how to bring it out and learn how to deal with it.

And we didn’t have enough time and enough resources to get there.”

Brady used opioids in large part to cope with his severe anxiety. The all-consuming dependency eventually robbed the Kamloops, B.C., family of the energetic, athletic young boy they once had. Brady tried counselling and treatment programs, making great progress until that morning after Valentine’s Day.

Brad and Debbie Dalke hold a framed photo of their son Brady
Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada, provincial governments

Relapse is common in recovery. But today’s illicit drug supply, awash with fentanyl and other toxic substances, is unforgiving.

Brady was one of more than 2,670 people to die of apparent opioid toxicity in the first half of 2020, according to national numbers from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

A count of more recent data by province and territory, where available, shows at least 2,563 more deaths over the course of the year.

This incomplete total, still missing months’ worth of data, puts the national count at 5,233 – already making 2020 the deadliest year on record for opioid-related deaths since national surveillance began in 2016.

The individuals behind these numbers are a lot more varied than you might think. Here are the stories of 100 people who died last year — they represent just a fraction of the toll of Canada’s overdose crisis.

TGAM leaf


Additional reporting by STEPHANIE CHAMBERS, RICK CASH and CARRIE TAIT; Editing by NICOLE MACINTYRE and LISAN JUTRAS; Photo editing by SOLANA CAIN; Video editing by PATRICK DELL; Design and development by DANIELLE WEBB

Lead image: Bereaved family members pose with crosses during a memorial photoshoot organized by Moms Stop The Harm in Mission, B.C., in October 2020. MAGGIE MACPHERSON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Portrait images of overdose victims are courtesy of their families, public obituaries and media reports.

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