One man's fentanyl horror story makes impact on PoCo high school

"It gives you a better feeling than anything I have taken," Nick Jansen told a gym full of high school students in Port Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday. It’s his first time speaking in public since losing both his brother and girlfriend to overdoses this year.

Nick Jansen shares how fentanyl addiction took both his brother and girlfriend and nearly killed him

Nick Jansen spoke candidly about his experience with fentanyl addiction to high school students in Port Coquitlam, B.C. (CBC)

"It gives you a better feeling than anything I have taken," Nick Jansen told a gym full of high school students in Port Coquitlam, B.C. on Tuesday.

"But then you wake up with dry heaves so bad you think your head is going to bleed," said the 19-year-old who knows the dangers of fentanyl only too well.

It's his first time speaking in public — and his first time admitting he was addicted to fentanyl — since losing both his brother Brandon and girlfriend Gwynevere Staddon to overdoses this year.

"I was addicted and I was in treatment when Gwynevere died. She told me she was clean and she was lying because that's what the drug makes you do," he told high school students.

Jansen says he's now clean after struggling with addiction since he was in high school.

"If one of you are struggling, come up and say something to me or my mom and we will help you," he advised the Grade 8 to 12 students.

"If you know someone is using, please say something. You can save a life or you can watch them die." 

Students were not informed of the nature of the presentation before attending. (CBC)

Fentanyl talk kept secret

The students were summoned to the gym with no advance warning they'd be hearing about deadly overdoses.

"Sometimes, when we tell them there's a presentation they choose to go to the dentist. They choose to go elsewhere," said Eric Leclerc, principal of École des Pionniers in Port Coquitlam.

He admits he may get in trouble with some parents, but he did not want anyone skipping the talk.

"Nobody knew, but we think this message is very important. This afternoon, maybe we save one life," said Declare, who hopes Jansen's story will inspire students to make safer choices.

Naloxone kits won't protect you

Jansen's mother Michelle, who also participated in the talk, told the teens her other son, Brandon, obtained a deadly dose of street fentanyl at a Sunshine Coast treatment centre last March and overdosed after two months of being clean.

Jansen had a similar story.

I went to seven different treatment centres and I used in every one of them," said Jansen, who is clean now but says drugs are readily available in B.C. treatment centres.

Michelle warned teens that a tiny dose can stop their heart and having a naloxone kit with the antidote to opioids nearby is no guarantee of survival.

"With my son and with Gwynevere, no amount of naloxone would bring them back, so to go on the premise that if someone in your group has naloxone, you can party on — that's not the case," said Jansen, who believes teens are taking extra risks thinking naloxone will save them.

David Patry-Smith, Claudya Leclerc and Sophie Arsenault were in the audience for Jansen's talk. (CBC)

Students unaware of risks

The students asked many questions, and it's clear many are not aware of the risks surrounding B.C.'s fentanyl crisis.

"I don't think people know that fentanyl can kill you," said 13-year-old David Patry-Smith. "I think the word 'death' really rang a bell in everybody's head."

The questions teens asked suggest that the provincial public information campaign about naloxone kits is not effectively reaching teens.

"I had no idea there was a kit that and use for that. I didn't know that existed. That is something that should be spread around," said 17-year-old Claudya Leclerc of the free naloxone kits being offered to drug users.

"It wasn't a teacher up there, it was someone who lived through it, and that had an impact," said Leclerc.

"I thought it was just really brave of him to come forward and talk about his experience, his girlfriend's experience and I think our entire school appreciates it," said 16-year-old Sophie Arsenault.

While the province is producing YouTube videos featuring parents, Jansen thinks only peers of similar age will be effective with teens.

At the end of the session, Michelle and Nick Jansen handed out information cards for the Brandon Jansen Foundation and links to treatment options.

"I'm just hopeful that one of them will listen — at least one," Jansen said.

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