British Columbia

Overdose survivor hopes to inspire others to seek help

As overdose deaths in B.C. reach new highs, an overdose survivor from Mission, B.C., encourages those struggling with addiction to get support before it's too late.

"That isolation ... almost cost me my life," says Mission, B.C., man.

After surviving a near-fatal overdose in 2019, Aeris Kurtis Finch was placed in a medically induced coma, left. Today, he hopes to inspire others struggling with addiction. As he continues to get support on his recovery, he encourages others to do the same. (Left Aeris Kurtis Finch / Right Baneet Braich )

Aeris Kurtis Finch lay unconscious, his skin looking blue, in his Mission, B.C., apartment. 

Cocaine laced with fentanyl led to an overdose. The then 31-year-old suffered seizures, swelling of the brain and organ failures, including in his lungs and kidneys. 

Paramedics worked on him for nearly 25 minutes to get his heart beating again, he says. Then he was placed in a medically induced coma for 23 days. 

"We were being told he probably won't survive," said his father, Joel Finch. 

Two years later, Finch hugs his parents closely in their garden in Mission. As overdose deaths in B.C. reach new highs, he hopes to inspire those struggling with addiction to get support before it's too late. 

Aeris Kurtis Finch says he is thankful to his family for being a pillar of support through his overdose recovery. He sits here with his father, Joel Finch and his mother, Barbara Garland. (Baneet Braich)

"There is care for you that is willing and ready to help you ... and try to get your life back on track," he said. 

"What happened to me was so catastrophic that I just … can't go back or even open the door that leads back to that place," he added.

From grief to recovery

Finch says his drug addiction stemmed from the death of his brother, who had a heart attack after taking MDMA, also known as ecstasy, at a rave.

Finch was 12 at the time. "That situation broke me," he said. 

He says he experimented with ecstasy and alcohol in his early teenage years, then began taking cocaine and oxycodone when he was 18. Finch, who has Crohn's disease, also used painkillers for relief.

Today he is recovering at the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic (RAAC) in St. Paul's Hospital, which he visits monthly for a Suboxone treatment program, a form of opioid replacement therapy. 

'Isolation ... almost cost me my life'

According to the B.C. Coroners' Service, this June was the ninth consecutive month in which at least 150 British Columbians died due to the toxic drug supply.

Mark McLean, medical lead and physician at the RAAC, says one of the main reasons overdoses occur is because it's extremely difficult to predict level of fentanyl in an illicit drug. 

"The concentration of illicit fentanyl is unknown and quite variable," he said. 

"Imagine buying a glass of wine at a restaurant and later finding out it was 70-80 per cent alcohol."

He says it's important to ensure that naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose, is available even when using stimulants like cocaine, because it can be contaminated with opioids. 

Sarah Blyth, who works at the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver, sees about 900 people a day struggling with addiction. 

She says drug checks, where workers at overdose prevention sites use a spectrometer to test drugs for fentanyl levels, is an effective way to prevent overdose. 

Aeris Kurtis Finch sits with his daughter who was born during his coma. His wife and daughter have both been an instrumental part of his recovery. (Aeris Kurtis Finch)

She adds that many are dying in isolation.

"Because of the stigma, they use in hiding, and that's when people are dying the most."

Finch knows what it's like.

"Just as you consume more and more drugs, you feel more and more guilty...and that shame led me to isolate and that isolation ultimately almost cost me my life," he said.

He hopes those struggling with drug addiction can push past the stigma and seek the help they need.

"It's when people are given a chance, they're given a glimpse, they're given kindness, they're given anything to make them realize that there is people that do care and there is life outside of this."

Finch says he is committed to being sober and is motivated by his daughter, who was born while he was in a coma. 

"I can see my progression in her eyes as she grows up."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Aeris Kurtis Finch survived a near-fatal overdose three years ago. In fact, this happened two years ago.
    Sep 09, 2021 5:01 PM PT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Baneet Braich

CBC Journalist

Baneet Braich is a journalist with CBC News. Connect with her at baneet.braich@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @Baneet_Braich

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