British Columbia

Kamloops mother speaks of son's fentanyl-related brain damage

Valerie Wilson's life has changed dramatically since her 22-year-old son overdosed on fentanyl.

Valerie Wilson can't leave her 22-year-old son alone for more than an hour after his fentanyl overdose

Dayton Wilson in a recovery house in Port Coquitlam, holding a stray cat. (Valerie Wilson)

Valerie Wilson's life changed dramatically after her 22-year-old son overdosed on fentanyl.

The incident happened on Aug. 29. Dayton Wilson didn't die but he did end up with a serious brain injury because of it.

"He says he was using several drugs. He had said that the next day.

However, a lot of what he said, he was talking about Klingons, so we can't really know for sure what happened," she told Daybreak Kamloops guest host Doug Herbert.

When the toxicology screen came back, the only drug that showed up in his system was fentanyl.

'I wanted to freak out'

"His brain injury is actually as a result of lack of oxygen for a long period of time," she said.

Dayton has a long history of drug use. Wilson says her son started first with marijuana at age 13, and then at 14 he started experimenting with other drugs.

"At 17, he told me he was addicted to heroin," she said.

"I felt like I was going to vomit. I wanted to freak out and scream and lock him in the room but I recognized that wouldn't be a very good idea."

Valerie Wilson now cares for her 22-year-old son Dayton after he suffered a brain injury from a fentanyl overdose (Valerie Wilson)

Like many families dealing with drug use, there were scares in the lead-up to the most recent overdose. She says Dayton previously overdosed at his father's home in Sun Peaks.

"We all thought he was clean. Actually, he had shot up," she said. "Two weeks later, he came back and told me it was an overdose."

This August, Dayton Wilson wasn't so lucky. The most recent overdose did major damage to his brain and now he can't be left alone for more than an hour.

"He should eventually get better, hopefully, but he doesn't have the knowledge to care for himself," said Wilson.

Wilson lived in Kamloops but has since moved to Port Coquitlam in order to care for her son. She said he needs constant supervision when it comes to cooking and even activities like helping Wilson in the garden.

Brain damage can have a huge impact on a person's life, according to Kamloops Brain Injury Association executive director Dave Johnson.

"Brain injury coming from drug abuse is relatively rare compared to all the other sorts but it is something that is relatively common amongst users."

Kamloops Brain Injury Association executive director Dave Johnson says brain injuries can lead to people making poor decisions. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

He says once the damage is done, there's a real risk of it causing further complications.

"If your decision-making skills, your cognitive skills have declined, you'll make more poor choices," said Johnson.

"It is a very real risk, and we do have cases of people who have died of drug overdoses after brain injuries."

'Don't just say it's not my kid'

Wilson is terrified her son will end up using drugs again.

"He won't survive it this time."

She recommends parents start the conversation early with their children.

"Don't just say, 'it's not my kid, it's not my problem,'" said Wilson.

And Johnson agrees that communication is a big part of dealing with the impacts of an overdose.

"If there's been an overdose and folks have been hospitalised, talk to the medical providers, and if you see changes in your loved one, tell the doctors, tell the nurses," he said.

"The doctor may never have met this person and if the person who suffered the overdose is now slurring their words, the doctor won't realize that's a change."   

Johnson says a big part of a family's role in a situation like this is providing that context and support for the person with the acquired brain injury.

The Kamloops Brain Injury Association currently offers a course to teach families, service providers and survivors about how to identify and cope with a brain injury.

With files from CBC Radio One's Daybreak Kamloops

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Kamloops mother speaks of brain damage caused by Fentanyl