Alternatives Funeral & Cremation Services owner Tyrel Burton has fired back at B.C.’s chief coroner, for what he feels is unwarranted and knee-jerk criticism of the funeral chain’s Fentanyl Prevention Program.
In a press release titled ‘Alternatives Funeral & Cremation Services corrects inaccurate conjectures about its Fentanyl Prevention Program,’ Burton said that a number of “uninformed critics” have remarked on the program.
“Unfortunately, there have been several statements made about the program by individuals in prominent positions that range from inaccurate to untrue,” Burton said.
Burton told the Times, “to be clear: our Fentanyl Prevention Program is intended for youth who are not existing drug users. It is a prevention program.”
The Aldergrove-based funeral chain has been under fire by B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe about what she describes as “scare tactics” (that) are not effective when it comes to combating the overdose crisis, following the launch of a “very visual” fentanyl prevention program by Alternatives.
On Nov. 30, Alternatives kicked off the campaign, with Burton described as using “powerful, perhaps even controversial, visual aids” to talk about the dangers of fentanyl.
The campaign includes a poster of grieving family members surrounding a coffin. Underneath the photo, a banner reads: “Will fentanyl be the reason for your next family get-together?”
In a written statement on the B.C. government’s website, Lapointe said that while public education and awareness is important, “the BC Coroners Service does not endorse, and will not be participating in, fear-based initiatives.”
“Evidence suggests that the reasons for drug use are complex and multifaceted, and programs focused on scaring people from using drugs, are not effective in saving lives,” she said.
“Additionally, they tend to increase the stigma surrounding drug use and actually discourage people from seeking help – an obsolete approach that has led to the loss of countless lives.”
Burton said the presentation on fentanyl prevention has not yet been seen by anyone, aside from the Alternatives personnel who have helped to create it and that it will be presented for the first time in January of 2018.
“It is puzzling to us that B.C. chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, has seen fit to pass judgment on the program before it has been put into action, particularly since the BC Coroner’s Service had been fully briefed on the nature of our presentation six months ago and had agreed to support it,” Burton said in the release. “It’s very disappointing to now see that commitment withdrawn.”
Company founder, Lawrence Little, reacted to the guesswork put forward by some as to what the Alternatives program is actually about: “With only the headline of a poster and a photo as ‘evidence’, we have been accused of using scare tactics. However, we feel that a strong dose of reality is the only way to capture a young person’s attention and make an impression that has at least a chance of helping them to resist that first invitation to try drugs. We freely admit that there are some strong visual elements – props, if you will – that are used as scene-setters for the presentation. There will be a hearse onsite; there will be police tape strung around the ‘scene’; and a casket will be in view in the hearse. To those who say these elements are upsetting and will scare those who see them, we would point out that the average youth sees hundreds of similar sights every week either on TV, in movies, or in video games.”
Burton also noted that the Alternatives program is categorically not intended for those who are already addicted to drug use. He maintains it is a prevention program, designed for youth 12 to 20 years of age or beyond, who are not addicted and who haven’t yet experimented with drugs.
Alternatives also points out that its Fentanyl Prevention Program strongly relies on parents attending with their children and “encourages moms and dads to see and hear the presentation with their kids, and hopefully use the message as a means of starting or continuing their own conversation at home about the dangers of drug use, particularly fentanyl.”
“Ms. Lapointe has stated that ‘programs based on scaring people from using drugs are not effective in saving lives,’” Burton said.
“What we find truly scary is her blanket condemnation of a program that is only just starting, and forming an opinion based on a photo taken out of context from the top portion of a poster. Indeed, Ms. Lapointe has not even seen the presentation.”
Alternatives Funeral & Cremation Services underscores the need for drug use prevention by pointing out that B.C. is on pace to see more than 1,500 drug-caused deaths this year and as such, “has felt a strong sense of duty to try and stem the tide through the education of our youth.”
Little said if Alternatives’ program turns out to be a waste of time, “well, at least we tried, and we will accept the criticism of those who might say ‘we told you so.’”
“But if our presentation saves the life of even one child, we will consider it a huge success,” Little said.