A life. A smile. A son.

Over the last six years, thousands of British Columbians have died from toxic drugs. Jacob Wilson was one. His mother recently told his story.

By Tyler Olsen | January 11, 2023 |5:00 am

Over the last six years, thousands of British Columbians have died from toxic drugs.

Those people weren’t statistics. They were real people: men, women, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers.

One of them was Jacob Wilson, an Abbotsford man who died in 2021.

Jacob was a gifted musician who once played atop the Great Wall of China and was beloved by his family. Recently, his mother, Shirley, wrote about Jacob on Twitter to mark International Overdose Awareness Day and in partnership with BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services. Since then dozens more have died from toxic drugs in the Fraser Valley.

Through the first three-quarters of 2022, at least 160 people perished after consuming illegal drugs. Many smaller Fraser Valley communities have overdose rates that match, or exceed, those of larger cities. In Agassiz and Harrison, for instance, six deaths were recorded through August. That toll left the community with a higher death rate than Vancouver and all but five other BC cities and towns.

Over the last six years, hundreds of locals have died. But their stories and their names have largely gone untold. If you have lost a loved one to drugs over the last five years, we would like to hear from you. Email us: tell us a bit about the person you lost and why they were important to you and others, and send us a photo. If we get enough, we will compile them for a story to be published in the future. We will contact you before publishing anything.

Today, we’re sharing what Shirley wrote about her son. She said the public needs to understand the drug crisis is about “real people in a real medical crisis.”

The discussion, she said, needs to be built “more on empathy than judgement. His death was not one of lifestyle choice, but of lack of services and care for those in the darkness of pain.”

Anyone in need with help with substance abuse issues can call a free hotline and referral service at 604-660-9382. The hotline provides information and referral to education, prevention and treatment services and regulatory agencies.

Jacob Wilson

Jacob Wilson and mother Shirley. 📷 Courtesy Shirley Wilson
Jacob Wilson and mother Shirley. 📷 Courtesy Shirley Wilson

‘A smart, curious, funny, generous young man’

Shirley Wilson:

“Jacob was a gifted musician. He and his sister Maddi played 11 instruments between them – he even played in a band on the Great Wall of China. He had a slight learning disability inhibiting his brain development but still graduated school and a heavy equipment program.”

Jacob Wilson. 📷 Courtesy Shirley Wilson
Jacob Wilson. 📷 Courtesy Shirley Wilson

“Jacob was a curious guy. He started work as a heavy equipment operator and began experimenting with synthetic hallucinogens. He lost his job and the psychosis set in. Jacob didn’t want to live with us so couch-surfed and moved to a shelter. That’s where he first tried meth.

“It all fell apart when Jacob was hit by a car four years ago. He spent three months in hospital, went through extensive surgeries and was left with facial disfigurement. When he got out, he put himself through rehab but his psychosis worsened from brain injury and drugs.”

📷 Courtesy Shirley Wilson
Jacob Wilson was a gifted musician. 📷 Courtesy Shirley Wilson

“We used to speak on the phone every day. In November 2021, I spoke to him while he was in hospital but the next day when I hadn’t heard from him, I knew something was wrong. That’s when I got a call telling me that he had died from a fentanyl overdose, alone in a hotel room.

“It broke our world apart. Jacob was so loved, had a big family, cousins, friends, his sister, Mom and Dad. That’s what people need to understand, it’s not just unloved, neglected kids who take drugs. This overdose crisis affects us all.

“Jacob was stigmatized so much and even though he had hope, that hope diminished bit by bit. It was astonishing to see him treated so badly. People make judgements without knowing the human behind each face.”

Jacob Wilson. 📷 Shirley Wilson
Jacob Wilson. 📷 Shirley Wilson

“Jacob is more than a statistic, his death can’t be simplified. He was a smart, curious, funny, generous young man. He loved animals, he got me a puppy for my birthday, I call her Lola J. We can’t bring Jacob back but I want to try and stop this happening to other families.

“Today I want people to think about the 10,000 people that have died from overdose since this crisis began. Think of them as people, their friends and families. Think about Jacob and others. Then think about how we can all do more to stop this tragedy from getting worse.”

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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