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Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham on June 20, 2018.

CHAD HIPOLITO

Dan Sealey had earned a scholarship to a college in New Jersey and was planning a life as a physics teacher. But his mental health challenges and addiction overtook him, leaving supportive friends and a family that includes a B.C. cabinet minister grieving his death from an accidental overdose.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, who was the 23-year-old’s stepmother, posted about his death on Facebook last Saturday, describing him as “funny, caring, smart, talented and special.”

“He was taken from us far too soon by accidental overdose before he got to fulfill his dream of being a Physics teacher,” she wrote. She declined to be interviewed, though her office confirmed that she had written the post. It’s unclear what substances he had taken.

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Mr. Sealey’s death comes amid an opioid overdose crisis that has killed more than 8,000 Canadians since 2016, with British Columbia being hit the hardest. It has claimed victims in all walks of life, leaving behind thousands more to grieve.

Eric Simonson taught Mr. Sealey physics in high school. He said Mr. Sealey was a great student and the two eventually became friends.

“We had a lot of fun chatting about music, movies, cars, physics, teachers, etc. Our weird senses of humour went well together,” Mr. Simonson wrote in an e-mail.

He knew about Mr. Sealey’s dream of being a physics teacher. He wrote a reference letter that helped Mr. Sealey get the scholarship at Seton Hall University.

Dan Sealey, who died of an accidental overdose, was planning a life as a physics teacher.

Lana Popham / Facebook

Mr. Simonson said in the few years after Mr. Sealey’s graduation, he would meet Mr. Sealey for coffee. Mr. Sealey was open about his mental health issues. Mr. Simonson said he now regrets that he wasn’t in touch more often.

“Was there anything I could have done to help Dan? I am sure so many people are asking themselves that this week. I don’t know if there is a good answer to that.”

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Mr. Sealey had been employed at a pizza restaurant in Victoria from 2013 to 2014 and 2015 to 2016. His former boss Jason Venkaya called him “one of the most intelligent and personable young men” he had ever employed.

“He was very positive, witty, talented, and always had a smile on his face and a fun-loving attitude,” said Mr. Venkaya, one of the owners of Oregano’s Pizza. “We would joke often, sing loudly, and converse at length about anything and everything,”

He said Mr. Sealey’s co-workers looked up to him for his ability to handle pressure and retain composure during the rush periods of the day, and he was always willing to take on the role of trainer for new employees.

Mr. Venkaya said signs of mental illness began to appear between 2015 and 2016, and Mr. Sealey confided in him that he was taking prescribed medication to overcome it.

After Mr. Sealey’s death, his family set up an online fundraiser, hoping to help other people who also struggle with mental health and addiction issues. The fundraiser, which was established on Nov. 13 with a goal of raising US$2,000, had received more than US$9,000 within six days.

Kendra Milne, senior director of policy, planning and government relations at CMHA B.C. (Canadian Mental Health Association B.C. division), said it’s absolutely necessary to raise awareness of mental health and substance use problems among children and youth and decrease stigma so young people feel comfortable and safe coming forward to ask for help when they need it.

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“At CMHA B.C., we hear from families trying to find mental health and substance use supports for the young people in their lives, and they often struggle to access the right services,” she wrote in a statement.

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