For the past month, Jessica Michalofsky has run a marathon almost every weekday, looping in circles around the Ministry of Health building in Victoria from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.
With a group of up to 20 people supporting her some days — including stand-in runners who have recently helped her complete the daily distance due to her tendonitis — Michalofsky has clocked a total of around 800 kilometres since Oct. 3 as she runs to raise awareness about B.C.’s toxic drug crisis.
She aims to continue running every weekday to pressure the government to take more action on the crisis — including providing a more accessible safe supply — after she lost her son Aubrey, 25, to toxic drugs a few months ago.
“In a way I’m doing this for the exposure, I’m doing this for the publicity, and I’m doing this to shame the government and to put pressure on them, as well as to raise awareness,” she said.
Michalofsky’s son is one of nearly 1,500 British Columbians who have died as a result of the crisis between January and August 2022. More than 10,000 people in the province have lost their lives since the public health emergency was first declared in April 2016.
Aubrey had just finished a degree in law and justice from Selkirk College in Castlegar, B.C., she said.
Worried about his health as he struggled with drugs, Michalofsky had moved Aubrey from Victoria to Winlaw in the West Kootenay, where they had extended family.
“I became so worried about having him here in Victoria,” she said, adding that she wanted to move Aubrey to a new community where he could start getting the help he needed.
Aubrey had been on a methadone recovery program for two years, she said. But living in Winlaw, he had to travel over 50 kilometres a day to receive his witnessed dose of methadone.
Michalofsky says her son’s death was preventable.
“I saw my son try really hard. I tried really hard to help him, but there was just a lack of resources, a lack of access to resources,” she said.
“This is not low-barrier therapy.”
The coroner, investigating Aubrey’s death, found fentanyl in his system.
“It’s obvious he didn’t know the potency … he certainly did not intend on dying. I was supposed to meet him later that day, so whatever he did was completely unintentional,” Michalofsky said.
Safe supply inaccessible
Michalofsky said most of the province’s prescribed safe supply programs are based in urban centres, making them inaccessible to those living in more rural areas.
On Thursday, she says she met with Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry.
“They acknowledged they are not doing enough. I think that’s a fair way to summarize what they said,” said Michalofsky, who is also advocating for more treatment centres, better education and more resources for parents.
In a statement to CBC, Malcolmson said stories like Aubrey’s “motivate and inform our continued work to save lives from the poisoned drug supply.”
“Over the last year, health authorities have been expanding prescribed safer supply programs throughout the province, a first-of-its kind approach in Canada.”
Mayor, Greens leader to speak at rally
In a bid to raise even more awareness, Michalofsky was due to host a rally in Victoria on Friday.
Speakers at the event, due to take place at 11 a.m. PT at the corner of Pandora and Blanchard streets, were set to include Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto and B.C. Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau.
Michalofsky hopes she can prevent what happened to her for other families.
“He was my only son, and my world will never be the same … if I can help other people not to lose their loved ones, I feel like Aubrey would want this and it’s his legacy to help other people,” she said.
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