The parents of a Winnipeg man who died of a fentanyl overdose last year are warning others about the drug's dangers, as police look into whether a recent fatal overdose was fentanyl-related.

John Kolb and Arlene Last-Kolb say it's been a tough year since the death on July 18, 2014, of their son, Jessie — a 24-year-old power-lifter who loved his family and enjoyed fishing.

"The first year was so hard, just getting through all of the celebrations," Last-Kolb told CBC News on Monday.

"Just one foot in front of the other everyday," said John Kolb.

John Kolb

John Kolb holds a photo of his 24-year-old son, Jessie, who died of a fentanyl overdose in July 2014. (Alana Cole/CBC)

During a night out, Jessie Kolb overdosed on fentanyl. His parents said they got a call at 1:30 a.m. to go to the hospital, but he was dead by the time they arrived.

"He didn't go out thinking he was going to die," his mother said.

Winnipeg police say they suspect that a death over the weekend, as well as a serious but non-lethal overdose, happened after two men consumed cocaine that may have been "contaminated" with fentanyl.

Investigators are waiting for toxicology test results to confirm what caused the overdoses.

Connected with overdoses across Canada

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that doctors prescribe to help patients manage chronic pain.

Arlene Last-Kolb and John Kolb

Arlene Last-Kolb, left, and John Kolb say they want to raise awareness of the risks associated with using fentanyl improperly, as well as tougher penalties for drug dealers and more support for people dealing with addictions and their families. (CBC)

In recent years, it has been connected with multiple deaths and overdoses across Canada as recreational drug users take it illicitly — and, in some cases, unknowingly.

A report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recently issued a report charting a rise in fentanyl-related deaths.

The report shows that fatal fentanyl overdoses in Manitoba have remained relatively stable between 2009 and 2013, with "a total of 48 fentanyl-detected and 27 fentanyl-implicated deaths" in the province.

Thirteen of the "fentanyl-implicated" deaths were linked to "fentanyl overdose or fentanyl toxicity" as the cause of death.

"Of the 48 fentanyl-detected deaths, 30 involved additional substances such as cocaine, amitriptyline, benzodiazepines and other opioids," the report states in part.

Jessie Kolb's parents said they knew he had struggled with drug use and had overdosed twice before.

'It can happen to anybody'

Now, they're warning other parents about a drug they once knew nothing about.

"Parents should be aware that it can happen to anybody. It happened to us. It could happen to any child," Last-Kolb said.

"Your child could go out and take something, and not know what it is, and not come home."

In a twist, fentanyl appeared in the parents' lives — in its intended usage — when John Kolb was recently admitted into hospital with heart trouble.

Kolb said before doctors restarted his heart, they told him they would use fentanyl as part of the procedure.

"I just said, 'Well, that's what killed my kid about 10, 11 months ago,' and they're in shock," he said. "That's why I was in hospital, because I couldn't deal with the stress anymore."

The elder Kolb said he didn't feel or remember anything from the hospital procedure, which led him to believe his son did not suffer.

"We know his heart probably just stopped," he said.

In addition to raising awareness of the risks associated with using fentanyl improperly, Jessie Kolb's parents want to see tougher penalties for drug dealers, more help for people dealing with addictions and more support for families.
"It's the hardest thing for any parent," John Kolb said.

His wife added, "Parents shouldn't have to go through this."