'It cost him his life': Father warns of fentanyl danger after son found dead on Christmas Eve

Larry Hobson’s son Jeremy was found dead on Christmas Eve in what he suspects is an accidental fentanyl overdose. He was 21-years-old.

Jeremy Hobson, 21, took pill believing it to be Oxycontin, father says

Jeremy Hobson, 21, was found dead on Christmas Eve after what his father believes was a fentanyl overdose. (Larry Hobson)

It's every parent's worst nightmare. Larry Hobson's 21-year-old son, Jeremy, was found dead on Christmas Eve in what he suspects was an accidental fentanyl overdose.

"That's my baby," said Hobson, unable to fight back the tears. "He's my heart and soul."

It was supposed to be a regular night drinking with friends and cousins. But then one of his son's friends gave everybody in the room a pill of what they thought was Oxycontin, Hobson said. Everybody — including Hobson's other son, Matthew — took a pill, but only one was lethal.

Hobson was in bed when he got the call.

"He just took something and it cost him his life," said Hobson.

His son's friends thought he had fallen asleep and moved him from the couch to the bed. Hobson believes everybody in the house was under the influence, which impaired their judgment and ability to call for an ambulance in time.

Hobson said his son doesn't smoke or do drugs and he's looking for answers, though nobody from that night is talking about what happened out of fear. The only information Hobson has obtained has been through the police or the medical examiner.

A toxicology report and blood test is underway but Hobson believes a single pill of Oxycontin would not kill. He added that the medical examiner did not want to speculate, but had affirmed that a dose of Oxycontin would not lead to death.

Searching for meaning in tragedy

In 2016, around two dozen people died in overdoses related to opiates, nine of which were confirmed by the chief medical examiner to have involved fentanyl.

While Hobson is still grieving the death of his son, he's already trying to gather the strength to start spreading awareness about the dangers of fentanyl, before a funeral has even occurred.

He plans to continue helping people understand that accidental fentanyl deaths can happen to anyone, young or old, prosperous or poor.

Hobson is already speaking with the Bear Clan about working together.

"There's nothing I can do about him being gone, but there's something I can do for other kids and parents," said Hobson. "My son's death is so senseless, but I want it to have some meaning."

Hobson doesn't want any other parent to receive that same dreaded phone call or go through the same anguish he is feeling.

"All it takes is one bad choice to end someone's young life and their future," he said.

He is warning parents and children about fentanyl, which can potentially be in any drug on the market, whether it's marijuana, cocaine or other opiates. He said he hopes the people putting fentanyl in the drugs will eventually be tracked down and held accountable for the harm they're inflicting on innocent kids and their families.

It's every parent's worst nightmare. Larry Hobson's 21-year-old son, Jeremy, was found dead on Christmas Eve in what he suspects was an accidental fentanyl overdose. 3:39

Fentanyl cases similar to last year

A spike in the number of fentanyl cases in late 2016 and early 2017 had health officials fearing the worst, but as this year draws to a close, there are signs the situation is at the very least not worsening.

"It looks like the numbers have not continued to rise as quickly as we had feared, but they are staying relatively high. Something in between a good and a bad news story," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical officer of health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Figures provided by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service show the number of people who received emergency doses of naloxone — a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose — has steadily declined over the past year, from a high of 100 in April to 29 in November.

Between January and November this year, WFPS administered 681 naloxone doses, only three more than the same period last year.

Reimer said the health authority's naloxone distribution program has been a success, but it's far too early to say the issue has been resolved. The overall numbers for substance abuse calls for help of all kinds has remained relatively steady.

"When drugs are illegal and there's no regulation, people don't know what they're using, they don't know strong it is, they don't know what else might be in it. So in the current setting we [try] to get messaging out to people about how to be as safe as possible," said Reimer.

Naloxone kits 'a success story,' but too soon to say we've won fight against fentanyl: doctor 1:42

Son had 'zest for life'

While he doesn't want to blame anyone for the death of his son, Hobson wants to find the truth and help track down the fentanyl peddlers.

Hobson remembers his son as a bright, generous man who had a great sense of humour — a "good kid" with a "good heart" and a "zest for life."

He said his son, in his first year as an apprentice ironworker, loved his family and his family loved him dearly. They plan on smudging in the room where he passed away.

It's been a difficult few years for Hobson; another son took his own life two years ago. But this time, the pain is even more unbearable because of the terrible timing.

"I just went to go buy his Christmas stuff, he loved the Detroit Red Wings," Hobson said through tears. "I bought him a T-shirt and sweater [...] I'll keep those now forever."

About the Author

Rignam Wangkhang is a Tibetan-Canadian multimedia journalist and radio producer with CBC Manitoba. He previously worked with CBC North in Yellowknife and CBC's The Current in Toronto. He was born and raised in Belleville, Ontario.

With files from Jacques Marcoux and Cameron MacLean