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B.C. mom walks the length of Haida Gwaii in call for action on toxic drug crisis

Jessica Michalofsky hopes run across B.C. will bring people together
Jessica Michalofsky walked from Skidegate to Masset on Haida Gwaii as training for her run across southern B.C. later this spring.

A B.C. mom has just walked the length of Haida Gwaii in protest and preparation for an event aimed at creating awareness about the lack of drug addiction treatment and safe supply options in small B.C. communities.

Jessica Michalofsky is training on Haida Gwaii for a springtime run she has monikered “Aubrey’s Run Across B.C.” in memory of her son, who died from drug poisoning last August.

“People who live in small communities or remote or rural locations even have trouble accessing traditional kinds of addiction therapies like suboxone or methadone,” she said. These two medications can both be used to treat opioid addictions.

Wanting to draw attention to the drug plight, she travelled from Vancouver Island to Haida Gwaii. She left Skidegate on Feb. 12, walking 37 kilometres to Tlell on her first day. Despite blisters from having wet feet, the next day, she continued adding 22 km to her tally ending in Port Clements. Finally, on the third day she trekked 44 km to reach Masset.

She said she felt like she had lost everything after her son died. In October, she started running laps around the B.C. Ministry of Health’s main office in Victoria. She said it seemed like one of the only things she could do.

Each day she ran the equivalent of a marathon in protest of the provincial government’s lack of response to the toxic drug crisis.

People inside the ministry took notice. In early November, she met with Sheila Malcolmson, who was the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions at the time, as well as B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry.

The minister and health officer agreed that more needs to be done, Michalofsky said. However, they would not explain why more could not be done.

During the meeting, Michalofsky pushed for the toxic drug crisis to be given the “cachet” that the COVID-19 pandemic was given but was told that is not possible, she said.

After the meeting and after running around the ministry building for six weeks, Michalofsky decided to redirect her focus elswhere. That is how “Aubrey’s Run Across B.C. to End Toxic Drug Death” was born, she explained.

The run will happen in May and June. It will start in Nelson, B.C. — where her son lived and died.

She will then travel north to the Okanagan before heading west to the lower mainland. From there, she will sail on the ferry across to Nanaimo and finish in Victoria.

“I decided to put my focus somewhere else and so for the run across BC, my focus is more on the people involved, people who use drugs, their families and young people … I feel like we need to band together.”

While there are now a few places in the province where people can access safe supply (prescribed medications as an alternative to toxic, illegal drugs), they are mainly in cities such as Victoria and Vancouver. Those living in small communities often do not have the same options, Michalofsky said.

This is why one of the focuses of her run is to advocate for safe supply options and better addiction treatment services for these more rural locations.

“Because of transportation problems, because of poverty and just accessibility, these services just aren’t accessible to people.”

Michalofsky feels like it is regrettable that her run will only reach southern B.C., but the 51-year-old did not want to overcommit and have to cancel part of the event due to an injury.

This is partially why she is travelling to smaller communities to do training that includes both running and walking. Her trip to Haida Gwaii was in this vein.

“… saying something is a training run allows me to walk instead of run but still have an event,” she said.

While travelling from Skidegate to Masset she said people stopped to offer her food and rides (which she did not accept until one day when she only had two kilometres left after a 37-kilometre-day).

“… on a small island, news travels fast and all of a sudden, people were contacting me on social media. I went into the pub and they were like, oh, that’s the lady,” Michalofsky said on Feb. 17.

Walking the length of Graham Island was therapeutic, Michalofsky said.

“I’ve cried out there. I’ve gotten angry and yelled really loudly with nobody around to hear me. But then also I think being in nature is kind of healing and so that’s helpful … a certain portion of your brain is engaged so you can’t dwell too deeply. It’s kind of a distraction.”

During her travels, she has met with other parents, siblings and relatives of people who have died from toxic drugs.

“It’s just so heartbreaking to hear the loss of people in the prime of their lives and then the people who are left here who are blaming themselves.”

Comparing stories with other people has been positive, she explained. It helps those left behind to see that it did not matter whether they gave their kids money or not and whether they were co-dependent or not. Everyone has a different story and yet the outcome was the same, she said.

“You know one of us will say, ‘Well, I gave all sorts of money,’ and the other will say, ‘Well I didn’t give any money,’ and we realize it didn’t make a difference.”

“The fact is that our kids died from ingesting a poison,” she said.

The run she is doing this spring is to honour her son, who graduated from Selkirk’s law and justice program.

“My son tried so hard. He really tried hard and he would be so angry that this happened, that he lost his life and that I’m now grieving. I know he didn’t want this to happen.”

“He wanted to be one of the people that were changing this, so in a way I’m making him a person who is changing this.”

Aubrey stands for the people who are dying preventable deaths and so this run is about him, his mom said.

People have suggested she start a fundraising campaign, she told Black Press Media. While she said she will need money and does not currently have a plan for how she will get it, she would rather people get involved in the run than give money.

“It’s easy for people to just say, “Oh, I’ll donate 25 bucks” and then go back to what they were doing. What I’d really like is for people to get involved. Come out, be present, walk, make sandwiches or let us camp in your backyard. Just be visible.”

If a community is interested in hosting a training event or an organization wants to get involved with Aubrey’s Run Across B.C., they can connect with Michalofsky through the Marathon A Day For Safe Supply Facebook page.

Alternatively, people in communities that are not on the route can plan their own events.

“It can be a walk and doesn’t even have to be a long distance. I mean, I did the 600-meter loop around the Ministry of Health.”

People can also help by signing a petition that will be circulating later this year.

READ MORE: VIDEO: B.C. mom running laps around ministry gets meeting with addictions minister

READ MORE: B.C. mom runs daily marathon in front of health ministry office after son dies of drug poisoning

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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