British Columbia

'He felt that he had beat it': mother shares story of B.C. son's overdose

In the weeks before he died Dec. 11, 2016, amateur boxer Joe Walker felt confident he was finally winning his biggest fight, against a fierce, decade-long addiction.

Victoria's Joe Walker, amateur boxer, died in December after fighting to overcome longtime addiction

Janice Walker said her son Joe struggled with substance use and addiction from the age of 14, but was determined to quit after his 25th birthday. (Janice Walker)

In amateur bouts on Vancouver Island, Joseph Wijohn-Walker pursued his passion for boxing. 

And before he died last month, Joe Walker, as he was known, felt he was finally winning his biggest fight — against a decade of drug addiction.

Now, the bereaved family of the young Victoria man has taken the difficult step of speaking publicly about his addiction and overdose death.

His mother, Janice Walker, said her son moved back into the family home in November, just after his 25th birthday, for support in breaking free from heroin and crystal meth use.

Walker told On the Island host Gregor Craigie that her son was doing "incredibly well."

"He was so happy to be clean, he was reaching out to people. Just happy to be alive and he felt that he had beat it," Walker said.

Joe Walker had success in treatment before, but was only able to stay drug-free for a couple of months at a time afterward.

Joe Walker's passions included boxing, and he competed in amateur bouts on Vancouver Island. (Janice Walker)

"I had never seen him so focused and determined to stay clean," his mother said.

And then, with no warning, he didn't come home one night.

He returned a few times over the next days in a state of intoxication, once nearly at the point of overdose.

'If you're using you can't be here'

Walker also found evidence of heroin and marijuana use in his bedroom.

She says she realized she had to decide whether to let him stay and try to get back on track toward recovery, or take a "tough love" stance.

"What I had always said is, if you're using you can't be here," she said.

Walker packed her son's suitcase and told him he had to go. She said he wasn't angry at her decision.

Joe Walker posed with a bear (in background) on a hiking trip at Cape Scott on Vancouver Island in 2016. (Janice Walker)

"The last words he said to me were, 'Don't worry, Mom, I'm not going to die,'" she said.

But Walker said she knew something was wrong when he didn't respond to her messages over the next few days.

His body was found in an unfinished garage on Dec. 13. Toxicology testing confirmed a fentanyl overdose.

Unsent message found on phone

"When we got his possessions back, he had tried to message me and said in his message, but never sent to me, was, 'Don't worry Mom, everything's going to be OK. I love you.'"

Walker said she wrote about her son's addiction in his newspaper obituary because it was how people would treat any other fatal illness, such as cancer.

"I wasn't ashamed of his addiction because I knew who Joe was. I knew that he wasn't that addict. He was also a victim to that," she said. "And he was so much more than that."

To hear the full interview with Janice Walker on CBC Radio One On the Island, click on the audio labeled: "'He felt that he had beat it,' mother says of son who overdosed".