Sara-Jane Béliveau

Sara-Jane is still very much alive in our hearts and in our thoughts, she will always be.

sara jane Béliveau sara jane Béliveau

By Isabelle Fortier, mother of Sara-Jane Béliveau (April 6, 1995 – May 17, 2019)

Sara-Jane died of fentanyl and sertraline intoxication on May 17, 2019, at the age of 24.  A student in the Law and International Development/Globalization program at the University of Ottawa, she had a real genuine heart and was a very intelligent and clever young woman. She was a fervent defender of the environment, and her goal in life was to work with our First Nations in order to defend their lands against corporations and developers (mining/oil/logging). In the last year of her life, she had been involved with the Red Cross here in Quebec, and worked front stage during the Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac’s floods in the spring of 2019. She loved helping other people in need… She felt that her life had a purpose when she did.

Sara-Jane had been struggling with mental health issues since her teenage years, suffering from general anxiety and borderline personality disorders.  Through therapy and medication, she desperately tried to get stable. But she had been using drugs on and off since the age of 13, starting with cannabis and amphetamines, and evolving to cocaine and heroin. Depressants were her drug of choice. A fatal dose of what she probably believed was heroin, but was in fact fentanyl, caused her death on that beautiful day in May 2019. She wanted to live; she had tons of projects in mind. She desperately tried to find her place in the world, her destiny, her path…

Her sudden passing was, of course, a shock to our family and to her friends. We knew she had had a rough winter—a stressful one—with her workload at university, constantly travelling back and forth between Montreal and Ottawa, a break up with her boyfriend in January. But she had told us that things were getting better, that she had mended things with her boyfriend, that she was looking forward to a restful summer. Unfortunately, she had starting using depressants again, or maybe she had been using regularly for a while, one will never know. She was ashamed of her substance use disorder, we are pretty sure about it, since she kept it from even her very close friends. She didn’t want to disappoint us, and in her mind, she wanted to be the best at everything that she was doing. She was so hard on herself! For us, all that we wanted was for her to be happy…

It unfortunately takes the death of a close one in order to realize how substance use disorder and mental health issues are affecting the lives of thousands of other people in Canada. There are so many other families going through the exact same ordeal we did! The toxic drug supplies are destroying so many families by taking away the ones that we love and want to protect the most.  But despite the grief, and in retrospect, Sara-Jane’s death was not an end in itself, but rather the beginning of a battle, a combat, as it gave me a reason to move forward and go beyond my grief. She had passed down the torch to me, her mother, to continue the work that she would have wanted to do: make a difference in the world and make an impact on the lives of those in need.

READ MORE: This is Who I Am, a poem by Sara-Jane Béliveau

Since her passing, I’ve been involved with a Canadian organization called Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH) as an advocate and regional leader for the province of Quebec. Moms Stop The Harm is a network of Canadian families who have lost a loved one to substance use, or who have a close one living with substance use disorder. I found great support and comfort among those who are part of this organization. They helped me better understand the impact of our failed drug policies and how important our work as advocates is on the path towards positive changes. For one, I’ve been “educating” myself when it comes to stigma related to substance use and mental illness. I knew so little about my daughter’s condition while she was still alive! Substance use disorder and mental illness are still taboo subjects—but that needs to change. 

I firmly believe that if we as a society could have been able to recognize the suffering of those using drugs a long time ago, without judgements, we would be in a much different place right now. But it is never too late, and my mission, along with the other mothers from Moms Stop the Harm, is to go out and share our experience as parents and our children’s stories in order to break down the stigma of substance use disorder and mental illness. We need to openly talk about it, without fear of being judged; because the more we share our stories, the more people become aware of how it can happen to anyone. Substance use disorder does not discriminate. Our work also helps people realize that drastic changes need to happen in our drug policies, that we need to break down stigma, and that we need to work towards implementing a variety of treatments that meet the person where he/she is, respecting their individual needs, pace, strength, and will to recover.

Sara-Jane is still very much alive in our hearts and in our thoughts, she will always be.  Not a single day goes by without me realizing how, despite her death and unfortunately because of it, she is indeed making a difference, in her own way, even though she is no longer with us.

About peterkimcdpc

Strategic Communications Manager, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition