'Everyone has worth': Sask. friends create GoFundMe for local charities after overdose death

After the overdose death of their friend, three people in Saskatoon have come together to raise money to help people struggling with mental health and addiction.

Julian Hazen-Babchuk was 21 years old when he died from a drug overdose on Aug. 22.

According to his friends, Dana Kwan, Chantal Burke and Montana Manion, Hazen-Babchuk had been facing mental health issues.

“It wasn’t a recent struggle for him. It is something he has been struggling throughout the end of high school until now. A lot of it had to do with issues with mental health, and everyone has their different ways of coping,” Manion said.

The three friends said Hazen-Babchuk was outgoing and was always willing to help out others.

“He was a really fun person to be around, you always felt a sense of happiness when you were around him,” said Burke.

“Julian was probably one of the easiest people to talk to. There was no forced conversation, there was no hesitation. You could just say what you wanted and he would listen. He always put others before himself, it didn’t matter what he was going through,” Manion said.

They started a GoFundMe in honour of Hazen-Babchuk. The money will go towards local charities of his family’s choice that help people in similar situations.

“I think one message that comes to mind is to really have people understand that no matter what they are going through, they are not alone,” Burke said.

“We want them to reach out to resources and have those places where they’re welcome no matter what they’re dealing with or who they are. Everyone has worth and they deserve to have help.”

They’re hoping to raise $60,000 by Hazen-Babchuk’s birthday on Dec. 27, with $54,000 going to the family to be split between charities and $6,000 towards a memorial bench.

OVERDOSES 'SLICE RIGHT THROUGH OUR WHOLE SOCIETY'

According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, the province has seen a drastic spike in overdose deaths over the past few years.

In 2020, there were 303 confirmed drug toxicity deaths and 102 so far in 2021 – back in 2010, there were 78. The number of suspected deaths due to drug toxicity has also seen a major increase, with 36 in all of 2020, compared to 167 so far this year.

“Our numbers are ahead of what they were last year. That’s been compiling every year ahead of the year before that. We are seeing a steady increase unfortunately in deaths contributed by drug toxicity,” said Clive Weighill, chief coroner for Saskatchewan.

Weighill said the numbers don’t discriminate, and drug overdoses can happen to people in all sorts of situations and demographics.

“It’s a really complicated issue, even to discuss, because there’s so many variables with this. People that succumb to drug overdoses, it happens for a variety of reasons,” Weighill said.

“It could be somebody that has addiction problems. It could be someone that’s depressed. There is no one demographic, there is no one age group. It is right across the province. It seems to slice right through our whole society.”

Weighill said fentanyl has claimed the most lives in Saskatchewan, with the drug involved in 69 of the confirmed drug toxicity deaths this year.

But it’s also people taking multiple drugs mixed together.

“Very seldom do we see just one drug involved. It’s usually a combination of methamphetamine and fentanyl, or alcohol and fentanyl, or fentanyl and etizolam,” Weighill told CTV News.