Hamilton

She found her son dead of an overdose — now she wants safer injection sites

As Hamilton begins to analyze and debate whether or not the city needs a supervised injection site, one grieving mother has a simple message: Hurry up and get on with it.

A year after her son's death, Cindy Carnicelli found dirty needles by her car

Jeremy Cyopeck (centre) is seen here with his mother Cindy Carnicelli (left) and his younger brother Alex (right) in better times. Cyopeck died of a heroin overdose in 2015. (Cindy Carnicelli)

Cindy Carnicelli went to bed on July 31, 2015, thinking that things with her son were finally turning around.

But by the morning, he'd be dead — another victim of an opioid epidemic killing people in Ontario at an alarming rate.

As Hamilton begins to analyze and debate whether or not the city needs a supervised injection site, Carnicelli has a simple message: Hurry up and get on with it.

"[Drug use] is here already in our neighbourhoods," she said. "For people to bury their heads in the sand and say it isn't is a falsehood."

At 33, Carnicelli's son Jeremy Cyopeck had lived a life of turbulence and, at the end, addiction.

She was trying to help him with his demons, but on that July evening, she came home and could tell her son had been using.

I truly do believe they would save lives.- Cindy  Carnicelli , on safer injection sites

The two argued, as she pleaded with him to stop.

Cyopeck had been getting treatment, and his mother wanted to make sure he saw it through.

Through their argument, the two came to an understanding.

"We cried and we hugged and we talked, and I said we were going to get through this," she said.

At 11 p.m., Cyopeck went into his mother's room, kissed her, and said goodnight.

"The next morning I went to wake him up and he was dead."

A life in turmoil, but also bright lights

He wasn't some lost cause, his mother says.

Cyopeck had spent two years at the University of Ottawa, pursuing a degree in criminology and criminal justice.

He had recently applied to Mohawk College as well, looking to get his life back on track

"He was a very bright student. He was a good kid," Carnicelli said. "He made some bad choices. But he was smart, he was articulate, and he was trying to get his life back in order."

But Cyopeck didn't always make things easy on himself. In 2004, he was arrested alongside another man while running a duffel bag full of ecstasy into the U.S.

He served two-and-a-half years in prison in the states, before transferring back to Canada to serve the rest.

Just days after he died, Jeremy Cyopeck was accepted into Mohawk College's civil engineering program. (Cindy Carnicelli)

He first lived in a halfway house, and then back with his mother at her Stoney Creek apartment building. "He had dabbled in drugs, but I didn't see addiction in him," Carnicelli told CBC News.

That changed in 2014, when she found him unconscious on the bathroom floor. He had overdosed on oxycodone, and was rushed to the hospital, where he stayed for two months.

Now "full-blown addict"

With pain ripping through him because of renal failure and other complications, doctors prescribed the powerful prescription painkiller fentanyl.

"We now had a full blown addict on our hands," his mother said. "No question about it."

Cyopeck was hardly alone, as record numbers of people are dying from overdoses in the city. In 2005, 18 people died of opioid overdose in Hamilton. That number peaked at 34 in 2011, and continues to stay high at 31 in 2014.

By contrast, 18 people died in traffic fatalities in Hamilton that year. City officials have noted fentanyl as a particular concern — and that comes as police and community groups warn of an oncoming crisis involving so-called "bootleg" versions of the drug.

Overdose swallows another life

Cyopeck's death was a mother's nightmare, but with no way to wake up. Investigators went through her son's text messages and found that at some point during the night that he died, Cyopeck had gone out, bought heroin, and then overdosed in his bed.

"And then ... I got a phone call just after he died that he was accepted into the civil engineering program at Mohawk College."

The pain of Carnicelli's loss came rushing back even harder just a couple of weeks ago, when she found needles, bloody alcohol swabs and other drug paraphernalia right next to her car, parked at her apartment building.

Former opioid addict Nicole and Debbie Bang, the manager of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Womankind addiction service, explain prescription painkiller addiction. 3:57

It couldn't have been one of the other cars — it had to be hers.

It was that moment that she felt she needed to start speaking out, and try to show people that safer injection sites could help save lives.

"There's this stereotype of people with addictions — that it's the person sitting on the street. They don't see the people in the workforce with good jobs and educations," she said.

"It truly is all walks of life."

Should Hamilton have a safer injection site?

Having a safer injection site could help save people like her son, Cyopeck says. But whether or not the city gets one is anyone's guess.

Hamilton is only now debating whether or not to simply study supervised injection sites, let alone debating whether or not to actually create one. At best, it would likely take two years to get the project off the ground — and that's only if councilors approve a $250,000 study as part of the 2017 budget.

Carnicelli says she would have absolutely no problem with a safer injection site opening up right next to her. People are using drugs around the city anyway, she says — the used needles next to her car are proof of that.

This way, people could do so in a safer environment — and maybe some would be able to get the help they need.

"I truly do believe they would save lives."

About supervised injection sites

At supervised injection sites, intravenous drug users can bring in their drugs, and are supplied with clean needles to inject them.

Nurses are also on site to monitor in case of overdose. This would both cut down on overdose deaths, as well as help with the spread of bloodborne pathogens.

It also helps eliminate used needles strewn around the city's dark corners and alleyways.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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