Mother of son who battled drug addiction for 23 years calls for improved detox support

Surrey mother said her son, who was addicted to cocaine and heroin, often experienced delays of weeks trying to get into a detox facility.

Surrey mother said her son often experienced delays of weeks trying to get into a detox facility

June Ariano-Jakes of Surrey B.C. has written a book about her son's 23-year battle with addictions to cocaine and heroin. (Gavin Fisher/CBC)

Nathan's addiction was touched off after a horrific accident.

He was hit by a truck after getting off a bus just before his 14th birthday. He was given morphine and other powerful painkillers while recovering from the broken bones and internal damage, said his mother June Ariano-Jakes.

When an addict is asking for help, we need to help them today, because five minutes from now that may be too late- June Ariano-Jakes, mother of an addicted boy

By his late teens Nathan was using marijuana and then stronger drugs like cocaine and heroin — which his mother said may have been because he was looking for that high he had experienced in hospital.

"He was put on morphine, demerol, [Tylenol] T3s, and years later he told me that he really liked the feeling he got from those drugs," said Ariano-Jakes, a Surrey woman who has written about her son's struggle in her book Addiction: A Mother's Story.

After trying harder drugs Nathan became hooked — and for 23 years he battled addictions to heroin and cocaine.

Mom spent $460K on treatment

Ariano-Jakes said Nathan went to over 24 treatment centres all over the  in Canada and the U.S., as well as several recovery houses in the Vancouver area.

"Over the years I'd spent $460,000 on treatment programs for my son," she told B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko.

"So it wasn't that he wasn't cared about, that we weren't trying to help him, it was just that when addiction raises its ugly head it really does hold people hostage."

Ariano-Jakes said Nathan has finally overcome his addiction — and has been clean two years and three months, which she said is "nothing short of a miracle."

Many others have not been as fortunate. Last month, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency over the increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths in this province.

A chart showing overdose deaths from illicit drugs in B.C. (CBC)

This year in B.C. there were 76 drug-related deaths in January alone, the largest number of deaths in a single month since at least 2007.

Delays in getting help

Ariano-Jakes said the numbers are concerning. "These are people's sons and daughters. These are not throw-away people," she said.

She said she experienced delays in getting help for Nathan — even when he himself was willing to be helped — which she said is unacceptable.

"It's something that has to be immediate. And oftentimes, even with detox, you're on a three-week waitlist. That's way too late," she said.

"When an addict is asking for help, we need to help them today, because five minutes from now that may be too late."

Dr. Keith Ahamad, a family physician trained and certified in addiction medicine at St Paul's Hospital, said he has seen three-week delays to access detox facilities.

He also said there needs to be a "continuum of care" that helps treat people's addictions, and not just manage their withdrawal, as well as a system of care in place that they can access once they are discharged from detox.

"Addiction is all about harm and the inability to stop using drugs in the face of harm, and harm reduction needs to be readily available for all of these people throughout British Columbia," Dr. Ahamad said.

Overdoses a public health crisis

"So with supervised injection sites or  supervised consumption sites, take-home naloxone programs, needle exchange programs, we need to make sure that those programs are readily available to engage with these patients wherever they are in the spectrum of the disease."

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said that since declaring a public health emergency there has been more Naloxone being given to drug-using patients when they are discharged from hospitals and discussions at the municipal level to request supervised injection sites from Health Canada.

"We have seen emergency rooms moving to push more naloxone out when they discharge somebody who's had an overdose," he said.

With files from B.C. Almanac and On the Coast

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: How one person's drug addiction affects their entire family