With fentanyl-related overdoses on the rise, one survivor wants to help

After a decade as an opiate addict, Tyrone Winder's habit almost killed him. His life changed on Canada Day, when he snorted heroin and woke up surrounded by paramedics. Three weeks ago he started a diploma program to become a community service addictions worker.

'I could have never woken up and known the effect that had on my loved ones'

Overdose survivor speaks about how it changed his life

7 years ago
Duration 0:55
Tyrone Winder speaks about having a heroin overdose, and why he's no longer hiding his opiate addiction.

After a decade as an opiate addict, Tyrone Winder's habit almost killed him.

His life changed two months ago, on Canada Day, when he snorted heroin and woke up surrounded by paramedics.

"My fiance was able to find me in time, phoned 911, and performed rescue breathing on me until the paramedics got there," said Winder.

This week he drove from Red Deer to Edmonton to attend the 7th annual overdose awareness day event outside the Alberta legislature.

About 100 people gathered to remember loved ones who accidently overdosed, and to talk about how such deaths might be prevented.

Between January and June this year, 153 people in Alberta died of accidental fentanyl-related overdoses.

Winder, 23, knows could have been one of them.

During the same period last year, 139 people died. The recent numbers are up markedly from 2011, when a total of six people died of similar overdoses.

Families of overdose victims lit candles to remember them at the Alberta legislature on Wednesday. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Winder stood Wednesday in a crowd of solemn-faced people with candles and signs, his first time at awareness event.

He considers himself lucky, because he was saved, but also because he didn't have a naloxone kit, which can be used to revive people suffering from an opiate overdose.

"I was just going to bed," he said. "And I could have never woken up and known the effect that had on my loved ones and friends."

It all started with oxycodone

The heroin he snorted was pink, and he suspects it was mixed with fentanyl.

Winder has used opiates since he was 13. He said it all started with oxycodone.

"It may have been a emotional coping mechanism," he said. "I came from a good family and good friends. I've had no real significant trauma happen to me. Maybe it just made me feel better and snowballed into what it is today."

He said he has been clean since the overdose, and is speaking out about his experience because he wants to help others with addictions.

"The fact that I overdosed, I can't run from that. It was a significant moment in my life. I might tell a stranger that I'm an addict, it could make them feel a little more comfortable to be open about their situation as well."

Three weeks ago, Winder started a diploma program to become a community service addictions worker.

Across the country there have been calls for the provincial and federal governments to do more to deal with the rising overdose death toll. Winder said he would like Red Deer to have a safe injection site, like the one in Vancouver.

"Even somewhere to get your drugs tested, to find out what is in it, without any legal repercussions," he said. "Even a good Samaritan law, at the very least, where someone could call 911, a family friend, that doesn't have to worry about the repercussions."

Outside the Alberta legislature, purple ribbons signified lives lost to overdoses. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Among the speakers at the legislature this week were addictions professionals, who stressed how important it is for addicts to be involved in prevention. Winder said even after his near-death experience, staying sober will be tough.

"Life is unmanageable, with the extreme highs and lows that come with addiction. I also want to be the best fiance, brother, uncle, son that I can be. When I'm actively using, I become emotionally unavailable to everyone in my life."

"During active addiction, I'm just existing instead of living. I would rather live."