An accidental overdose killed his son. Now this Niagara man is trying to save other young people

After 21-year-old Jake Borisenko died of an accidental overdose, at a time when opioid use in Ontario's Niagara region has hit record levels, his father created a website and is developing an app to help other young people avoid danger.

Steve Borisenko built a website, is working on an app to help protect youth from danger

Steve Borisenko, left, with his son, says that on June 11, Jacob died after an accidental drug overdose. The St. Catharines, Ont., man says Jacob was fiercely loyal, hilarious and had a budding passion for cars. (Submitted by Steve Borisenko)

When Steve Borisenko picked up the phone the morning of June 11, the St. Catharines, Ont., man learned his 21-year-old son Jake had died after an accidental drug overdose.

"I was crippled," Borisenko said.

But now, he's working on a project — a website and a special app — to help other youth, honouring his son in the process.

Borisenko said Jacob battled depression for months during the pandemic and was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. 

His son took what he thought was a street version of Xanax, Borisenko said, but it was actually some other mix of drugs laced with fentanyl. 

Borisenko said Jacob was fiercely loyal, hilarious and had a budding passion for cars. 

"He took the wrong pill on the wrong night from the wrong person — and he paid the price, the ultimate price," Borisenko said.

Niagara opioid use hit all-time high

In Niagara, opioid use hit an all-time high in March, according to Marty Mako, the mobile integrated health commander with Niagara Emergency Medical Services.

He said there were 84 suspected opioid overdoses.

From January 2021 to the end of June, data online shows paramedics responded to 404 suspected opioid overdoses.

That's roughly one overdose every 12 hours.

The long-term goal for me is to give my son's life purpose ... the torch has been passed to me. He was my only son. I can't have him die for no reason.- Steve Borisenko

Mako said that last year, there were 625 suspected overdoses and 499 in 2019, which means this year is set to see a record number.

Data from Niagara Region Public Health shows emergency calls for suspected opioid overdoses this year are on track to be higher than any other. (Niagara Region Public Health)

"It's quite troubling looking at those stats ... those are numbers, but they actually are individual people in our community," he said.

"I've heard some people call it the shadow pandemic."

Mako said most calls involved men between 25 and 44 years old. The majority of calls are from St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

Mako said the local drug supply is stronger than it has been in the past and, as a result, fentanyl overdoses are on the rise. Reports of a stronger fentanyl with a pink or purple colour have come up across Ontario.

"People are not always consuming what they think they're consuming."

Anyone using drugs shouldn't do so alone, and should have the fentanyl rescue drug naloxone nearby, he said, pointing to an increase in incidents of people dying with no one else around.

Jacob's dad making app to save others

Just days after Jacob's death, his dad took action.

"I'm much better when I'm fighting this than I am just sitting in gloom," Borisenko said.

The website he designed is called Jacobs Wall and he's developing an app to protect other youth. He also aims to collect donations to help realize the vision.

Steve Borisenko, right, said his son was working at General Motors, enjoyed his job and started developing a passion for cars. But the pandemic, Borisenko said, led to fewer shifts and depression. (Submitted by Steve Borisenko)

Borisenko said he wants the app to be hidden on the user's phone and have it include a panic button that would alert a family member or confidant, send the user's location and allow the family to help.

Borisenko also wants people to report where drugs are in a community to help others avoid those spots in the area.

He said there needs to be stricter criminal penalties against drug dealers.

"The long-term goal for me is to give my son's life purpose ... the torch has been passed to me. He was my only son. I can't have him die for no reason."