British Columbia

Young fentanyl addict survives death threats, overdose

A young BC fentanyl addict and his mother share their stories about the dangers of a drug that's sparked a public health emergency in B.C.

'I hate to say it, but [fentanyl] was probably the best feeling you ever feel in your life.'

"I hate to say it, but it was probably the best feeling you'll ever feel in your life," says this young B.C. fentanyl addict. "You feel like you're bullet proof. It feels so good at the time, but as soon as you're coming down, it's horrible." He's now in rehab in Alberta. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

A young fentanyl addict and his mother are speaking out about death threats and an overdose in the hope their story will help others.

CBC has agreed not to name them or their home town, because the young man's family fears reprisals from local drug gangs.

'My son could be hunted and killed'

"You know this is a war," said his mother, a well-respected professional in a small B.C. city. "I would never go to the police, because I, too, am afraid".

"I am afraid my son could be hunted and killed," she said. "It happens every day."

She was so concerned, she used to accompany her son when he went to pay off drug debts. 

"Absolutely, because would you want him to go on his own? You might not ... ever see him again," she said. 

Her son was a good student and star athlete who went to work in the oil patch after high school.

Star athlete became fentanyl addict 

He became addicted to heroin and fentanyl. 

Her son's addiction got so bad, so fast, she even started preparing for his funeral — even collecting pictures for his memorial program.   

"I actually have been scanning photos of my child into my computer, pictures of my child when he was happy and healthy. because I wanted people not to remember my child as an addict."

Then, she got a phone call that her son had overdosed on fentanyl while in drug treatment in Alberta.

She weeps as she remembers that night last year.

22 year old 'flatlined'

"Your son has overdosed and you can't get to him," she said. "That's pretty tough. 

But he survived.

Now 23 years old, he remembers taking half a fentanyl pill and waking up to paramedics and firefighters over his bed.

"They defibrillated me to bring me back to life," he said. "I had a trach down my throat to keep me breathing.
My heart stopped. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, I flatlined again."

But the overdose didn't end his addiction.

Fentanyl was 'best feeling...ever'

"I hate to say it, but [fentanyl] was probably the best feeling you ever feel in your life," he said. "You're literally bulletproof."

When he went without fentanyl, he said, "you literally feel like you are going to die, You're willing to do absolutely anything to get that drug to not feel that way."

He said he was so afraid he'd never kick his addiction that he wanted to die. "I couldn't make it through a day without it," he said.

Now, he's several months into his third stay in rehab. 

His family is paying for the drug treatment at a private facility in Alberta. 

I hate to say it, but it was probably the best feeling you ever feel in your life. You're literally bulletproof. - fentanyl addict 

"If you're waiting to get into government [funded] care, you might be too late," said his mother. "I worried my son would die."

And people continue to die at an alarming rate, according to B.C Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall. 

"We're up against a very cheap drug," said Kendall. "It is an opiod. Initially, at least, it makes them feel good." 

"I would be very reluctant to say it gives an intense high, because I wouldn't want to advertise its properties," said Kendall.

Fentanyl deaths still on the rise

Kendall says despite B.C.'s declaration of a public health Emergency, the number of fentanyl overdose death continues to rise in the province.

"We haven't reached the epidemic peak. I don't think we've reached the top yet," said Kendall.    

"At some point the curve will level out because susceptible people will have, unfortunately, died."


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Fentanyl addict, 23, survives death threats and overdose

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener is an award-winning journalist and author. She's been covering the news in central and northern British Columbia for more than 15 years.