British Columbia·CBC Investigates

'It's like pulling teeth': No treatment bed for B.C. fentanyl addict who returned from the dead

Bryson Diaz has overdosed 11 times in his 23 years. Paramedics had to bring him back to life the last time. Now he wants to kick his habit, but like many addicts in B.C., he can't find a spot in the publicly funded system.

Methadone is 'liquid handcuffs' for Bryson Diaz while he tries, like many others, to find a spot in treatment

Trinity Diaz and her son Bryson, 23, who can't find a spot in a publicly funded residential drug treatment program. (CBC)

Bryson Diaz has overdosed 11 times in his 23 years.

The last time, back in November, was with his pregnant girlfriend, under the bridge where they lived.

Both took the "tiniest little bit" of bootleg fentanyl and both would have to be revived by paramedics.

"My girlfriend split it into two and by the time she had hit it, I was hitting mine and we were just gone like that," Diaz said.

"It was within seconds it was all black and I was being woken to a paramedic cutting my shirt and resuscitating me."

He says the paramedics told him he'd died. They brought him back with repeated doses of naloxone, as well as CPR.

'I'd be happy to go'

Perhaps it's the addiction talking, but Diaz, now sweaty and fidgety and overdue for his daily dose of methadone to kill his cravings, says he wishes they'd let him die that day.

'I lived down in the dumps for so long that if a fentanyl dose killed me I'd be happy to go.'- Bryson Diaz, 23

"I was pissed off when the paramedics woke me up because of the fact I'd have to go through this again," the Coquitlam, B.C., man said of his struggle to stay off opioids.

"I lived down in the dumps for so long that if a fentanyl dose killed me I'd be happy to go."

Bryson Diaz says paramedics told him he'd died during his last overdose. (CBC)
Diaz, who's struggled with addiction disorders since he was 13, is one of many addicts in the province who can't get a publicly funded treatment bed.

He's on a methadone maintenance program, which, for now, is keeping him away from fentanyl, but he's not getting any counselling or therapy.

"I'm just trying to do it on my own, because just to get into a bed, it's like pulling teeth," he said.

'The system is failing him'

His mother, Trinity Diaz, says the treatment bed shortage in B.C. is costing lives and she blames Premier Christy Clark's failure to meet her election promise of adding 500 new beds by 2017.

So far, the province has only created 220 new beds and pushed the deadline to "in 2017," which basically amounts to a 12-month extension.

"She said whatever she needs to say to get elected and if it was her child things would be a lot different than they are now," Trinity Diaz said.

"You are calling around place to place and yet your son needs to get in there because if he doesn't, he's gonna use again."
B.C. Premier Christy Clark pauses during a July 27 news conference where the government announced the creation of a task force on drug overdoses. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The single mother says the only treatment centre she found that was willing to take Bryson was a private company that wanted $50,000 for a two-month program.

"Because I don't have that kind of money, I believe the system is failing him, passing him through, and they don't care."

She's angry the province hasn't done more to prevent drug deaths since a public emergency was declared in April.

This story is part of a CBC investigative series on the fentanyl addiction crisis in B.C. and its implications for the rest of Canada. Read more in the series:

A CBC news investigation of B.C.'s addiction treatment system reveals a patchwork of private and publicly funded programs that are outdated, ineffective or very hard to access. CBC contacted every treatment program in the province and found wait-lists up to six months for publicly funded treatment, and private centres charging as much as $40,000 a month.

"What I'm finding they do the most is pass the buck," Trinity Diaz said. "They tell you to call someone else or call another facility and then when you call them they tell you to call somewhere else."

'Liquid handcuffs'

In the meantime, her son's on methadone to control his cravings — she calls it "liquid handcuffs."

Bryson's dose is 90 milligrams, which is too high for most treatment centres, but his mother worries if the dose is lowered, he'll go back to street drugs.
Bryson Diaz takes methadone to control his fentanyl cravings. (CBC)

He says his addiction has ruined his life and destroyed his chance to raise his daughter, who was born in January. He talks as if relapse is inevitable, along with the unbearable sickness that always follows. Fentanyl withdrawal, he says, is ten times worse than coming off heroin.

He knows from experience.

"I'd get dope sick within six hours … stomach hurts, my skin's on fire, melting off me, I'm puking, no energy to do anything, constantly going to the bathroom, sweating hot and cold … it's the worst feeling."

Bryson's mother fears his next relapse will be his last.

In June, Premier Clark announced a task force to try to curb overdose deaths in B.C., but even its co-chairman admits the group of experts has limited resources.

"We have a constrained budget, a finite budget," said Dr. Perry Kendall, the province's health officer. "We have a lot more demands on the budget than the budget is able to meet, so it's a question of where to strategically get your best bang for your buck."

Trinity Diaz has a demand of her own: the province should fund psychological counselling for all addicts waiting for treatment beds.


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Edited and packaged by Dave Pizer