Funeral Home Tries to Scare People Away from Using Fentanyl

By Britni de la Cretaz 12/06/17

A Canadian funeral home has a morbid message for its community against the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Canada has a fentanyl problem too.

The dangers of fentanyl are becoming increasingly apparent as overdose death rates reflect the potency and lethality of the drug. In British Columbia, one funeral home is attempting to bring awareness to the problem with an ad campaign that some people find objectionable.

The campaign was launched by Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services and features a photo of a white family gathered around a casket with the words, “Will fentanyl be the reason for your next family get-together?”

But that's just the beginning. The company’s founder, Lawrence Little, told the Times Colonist that there is more planned for the new year, including an event where attendees will encounter a hearse upon entering. “The back door will be open with a casket and police tape. There will be a chalk outline of a body, a tipped-over pill bottle and a syringe,” he said.

There will also be speakers that include police officers, coroners, and victim services workers, “who go with the officers to ring the doorbell and tell people their son or daughter is dead,” Little told the Times Colonist.

In 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration noted that heroin overdose death rates had tripled, and attributed that increase to fentanyl being cut into the drugs. According to the CDC, deaths in the U.S. from synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased 264% between 2012 and 2015. In Canada, deaths related to fentanyl are also increasing. 

British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, is among the campaign’s critics. She said that her agency does not support what she called “fear-based initiatives.” According to CTV News, Lapointe said that fear-based campaigns increase stigma and discourage people from seeking help.

In the United States, an Ohio police department was criticized for its own attempt at this kind of awareness-raising when they posted photos on Facebook of a couple who had overdosed in a car with a small child in the backseat.

Research supports the idea that campaigns meant to scare people away from drugs don't work. In the U.S., the D.A.R.E. program in elementary schools was found to not only be ineffective, but to result in increased drug use among children who had completed it. Similarly, “scared straight” programs found similar results—they didn’t discourage children from committing crimes and may even have encouraged them.

Instead of tapping into fear, Lapointe’s statement encouraged empathy and encouragement, saying, "In the long run, compassion and support, including prescribed medical treatment where appropriate, will be much more effective in turning this crisis around than fear and shame.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.