Ashley and Ryan Sidun.Supplied, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ashley Sidun wants to get kids and parents involved in youth hockey talking about fentanyl.

The Sudbury native lost her younger brother Ryan to fentanyl poisoning in 2020 and to honour him, she has created the Purple Stick Youth Hockey Organization, dedicated to creating awareness and education programs aimed at youth hockey teams, organizations and tournaments.

“My brother was extremely passionate about hockey – he played it for more than 20 years on both sides of the border,” said Ashley from Pennsylvania, where she lives with her family. “Although there’s no statistics about this, hockey players like to play hard and party hard. I think it’s an important group of people to reach out to and tell Ryan’s story, in addition to other stories I am compiling.”

Ashley said her campaign is driven by compassion and kindness, traits her brother embodied.

“Our goal is to avert tragedy by empowering the hockey community with facts and stories that can save lives,” she said. “We want to reach out to people who are dealing with addiction to seek help and we want to reach individuals that are at risk, which are these kids who are playing hockey and their parents.

“This is not a ‘Just Say No’ campaign at all. This is empowering parents to speak to their kids and know the facts. These are conversations we do need to have with our kids now.”

Ryan Sidun died on Feb. 22, 2020, in Florida after using cocaine that, unknown to him, contained fentanyl. His sister said he was “going through one of his low times.” His cross became the 100th to be added to the row of crosses in downtown Sudbury to remember those who died of overdose and raise awareness. The Crosses for Change site now has more than 250 crosses.

“We wanted to honour Ryan’s memory,” said his sister Ashley. “He passed away and two weeks later the pandemic shut down everything. We couldn’t even have a memorial or do anything for him. We had to sit in our grief and watch what people are becoming more aware of — a fentanyl crisis taking over.”

Played NCCA hockey

Her brother was living in Daytona Beach and had finished his aviation degree at Liberty University the year before, having played NCCA hockey for the institution. He hoped to become a commercial pilot.

“We need to shift the education on this matter,” Ashley said about the increasing number of fentanyl poisoning-related deaths across the continent. “We need to get louder and bolder.”

Ashley, along with her children, husband and her parents Brenda and Greg Sidun of Sudbury attended a rally in Washington on Sept. 23, organized by Lost Voices of Fentanyl, a non-profit organization comprised of bereaved families and concerned citizens devoted to illicit fentanyl poisoning and prevention.

Hundreds turned out and marched to the White House to demand politicians do more to stop fentanyl from being brought across the border and to raise awareness of the drug’s dangers.

“It was interesting being with other people who have experienced this,” said Ashley. “We kept saying to each other that we were so sorry to have to meet on these terms. There were just so many people.

“But being able to share and be united in this grief was therapeutic. To hear different stories, from government agencies to personal stories, we went for support and to educate ourselves on what is currently going on.”

Ashley said an important part of raising awareness is shifting the language from ‘overdose’ to ‘poisoning’ when it comes to fentanyl.

“In the vast majority of these cases, people are not seeking out fentanyl,” she said. “The fentanyl is being put into whatever product they might be taking. The younger generation is more into these counterfeit pills and 50 per cent of them seized by the DEA are pure fentanyl. We need to start using the term poisoning or non-consensual use.”

Fentanyl extremely dangerous

According to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S. More than 150 people die every day in the U.S. from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, states the CDC on their website.

According to statistics from Health Canada, there was a total of 38,514 apparent opioid toxicity deaths from January 2016 to March 2023. Of all accidental apparent opioid toxicity deaths between January and March 2023, 81 per cent involved fentanyl. According to Heath Canada, this percentage has increased by 42 per cent since 2016 when national surveillance began, although it appears to have stabilized in recent years.

There are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illegally made fentanyl. While both are considered synthetic opioids, pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, especially after surgery and for advanced-stage cancer.

In Sudbury, frontline workers and the Sudbury District Health Unit have received reports of an increase in the number of drug poisonings (overdoses) and unexpected reactions from the use of substances in Sudbury and districts. The health unit warned that street drugs may be cut or mixed with substances such as benzos (benzodiazepines), xylazine, fentanyl, or carfentanil.

“The illicit drug supply is increasingly more dangerous,” said Ashley.

According to the CDC, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl, “which is distributed through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often added to other drugs because of its extreme potency, which makes drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous.”

In Ryan’s case, unknown to him, there were 7.5 nanograms of fentanyl in his cocaine. About three nanograms can kill a person. Ashley said that even if friends were present and called paramedics, “there was no coming back from this.”

No amount of naloxone would have brought him back, either.

To learn more about Purple Stick Youth Hockey Organization, follow them on social media and

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

X: @SudburyStar

By Laura Stradiotto, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 04, 2023 at 23:42

This item reprinted with permission from   The Sudbury Star    Sudbury, Ontario
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