Manitoba family who lost son to prescription drug use says help is needed

Jesse Fredericks died at age 18 from a drug overdose. One day before his death, his family tried to access addictions services for him but were told they would have to wait.

Losing son to prescription drug overdose prompts Manitoba family to reach out to others

Jesse Fredericks died at age 18 from a drug overdose. One day before his death, his family tried to access addictions services for him but were told they would have to wait. (Courtesy Fredericks family)

It was just over a year ago that Dalton and Linda Fredericks were hopeful things were about to turnaround for their son.

They knew 18-year-old Jesse had been experimenting with drugs. But, on a Friday, after a night of using drugs, he was ready to make a change.

"He woke up and said, 'Look, I want out of this. I want to get fixed,'" said Dalton.

Dalton called Addictions Foundation Manitoba, then he called a crisis line.

"They asked me, 'How old is he?' He's 18," said Dalton. "'Does he want to come in'? I said, 'Yeah, he wants to come in.' 'Ok, well, we will make arrangements on Monday to have somebody call you and get the process started.' Well, when you are in that situation, you know, again, experience now tells me, you don't have time."

[My son] woke up and said, "Look, I want out of this. I want to get fixed,"- Dalton Fredericks, whose son Jesse died of an overdose

Jesse didn't survive the weekend. He had been out with friends and overdosed on prescription drugs.

"They said he passed away in the morning," said Dalton. "I guess everyone else got up in the afternoon. Jesse just didn't get up." 

Jesse Fredericks is just one of 138 people who lost their lives to a drug or alcohol overdose in 2014, according to the office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Manitoba. 

The dangers associated with using drugs have been front and centre in cities across the country due to a number of deaths and overdoses linked to the powerful prescription drug fentanyl in recent months. 

On Wednesday, officials with RCMP, Winnipeg Police Service and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority held a news conference warning people about the risks associated with buying and using fentanyl. 

Manitoba government working to improve services 

The Province of Manitoba funds a range of services to help people coping with addictions including detox beds, community based treatment programs and primary treatment, which is the first stage of treatment after a person's withdrawal management is complete and it includes residential programs. 

But, officials admit, a person seeking help could wait days to get a detox bed, and the wait to get into a primary treatment program could be even longer. 

"On average, if somebody was wanting today to access treatment, a primary treatment bed, they could be in one within a few weeks, " said Tina Leclair, executive director of the addictions policy and support branch for Manitoba Health and Healthy Living and Seniors.

They said [my son] passed away in the morning ... I guess everyone else got up in the afternoon. Jesse just didn't get up,- Dalton Fredericks, whose son Jesse died of an overdose

Leclair said the province is moving towards enhancing services but admits the current system needs work.

"Certainly we acknowledge that no wait time would be best, and the system is not perfect as it currently stands," said Lecair.  "I mean there are some challenges, especially with wait times. We do all we can to make sure people can have access as timely as possible. If they are high risk, for example, a pregnant woman will be prioritized, so ideally there is no wait at all."   

Leclair said more than 19,000 Manitobans were touched by publicly funded addictions programs in the 2014-2015 year. That number includes people who are using drugs and looking for help, or families looking for support. 

More than 1K reported overdoses a year

According to statistics from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, on average over the last three years, there have been more than 1,500 cases a year of reported overdoses. But, those numbers only include patients who self reported or had a person who was with them report an overdose. 

The WRHA said the numbers don't represent a full picture of the problem because they don't include data from Winnipeg Children's Hospital or Misericordia Health Centre. The WRHA said there's also no guarantee that alcohol was not involved in some of the cases since.

You have to figure out where someone is at in their using ... then you have to manipulate your way through the system to try and get access,- Ian Rabb, addictions worker 

Dr. Alecs Chochinov heads up the University of Manitoba's department of emergency medicine. 

He said most overdoses are accidental, but some can be linked to addiction issues. 

"I think in general the ability to access addictions help is not optimal in our system," said Chochinov.  "There's no question about it and part of that is related to the fact that drug use and addictions is a hugely growing problem. It seems to be getting more complicated. And there's new and more complex drugs, and so it's really hard for us to keep up with this."

Chochinov said treating addiction is complex and prevention is key to managing the problem, but that's not happening nearly enough.

"I really think the resources have to be put in the front end, in prevention, in schools, in families, in education and all those sorts of things," said Chochinov. "I'm certainly not belittling the problems with people that come to emergency with addictions and overdoses, [because] we have to see them every day. But we can't get on top of this problem. It's growing so fast, unless we look at the public health domain. "

New private addictions recovery centre in works 

Ian Rabb has worked in the addictions system for about 14 years and started Two Ten Recovery, an organization which allows people who have substance abuse problems to live in a sober environment.

Rabb said he has spent hundreds of hours in emergency rooms and helped countless families who have loved ones who are looking to get clean. 

"The system in Manitoba is somewhat broken," said Rabb. "There are a lot of good agencies that do a lot of good work, but there is no integrated comprehensive system, so it's very difficult when a family is in crisis to figure out what's next for their loved one."
Ian Rabb has worked in the addictions system for about 14 years and says the addictions treatment "system in Manitoba is somewhat broken." (CBC)

He said he gets phone calls weekly from strangers who say they have a family member with a problem. Often, they are lost in the system not knowing what to do next. 

"They ask what they should do," said Rabb. "Ultimately, you have to figure out where someone is at in their using or drinking and figure out what the best approach would be. Then you have to manipulate your way through the system to try and get access. And ultimately, interestingly, the majority of the people that I work with end up sending their family members away, out of the province, for treatment." 

Rabb is currently working to open a private addictions recovery centre near Gimli, Man., this year. 

He hopes Aurora Recovery Centre will help fill the gap in services he feels exists in Manitoba. It will include treatment programs and detox beds, but it will cost $900 a day to access.   

"We are a 24-hour facility," said Rabb. "We will have 24-hour nurses and nurse practitioners on site to handle any medical crisis or medical detox. But, one of the things that I pushed really hard for is that we have our staff available for families 24-hours a day. So if someone ends up in an emergency room in Manitoba or elsewhere in other provinces, we'll get one of our staff members to that family and help them transport their family member back to our detox and work them through our continuum of care."

Families need quick access to services 

Dalton and Linda Fredericks want to see quicker access to front line services for families looking for treatment for their loved ones.

"They need agencies that they can take them to that understand the reality of the problem and are able to work with the parents immediately [because] that's the key," said Dalton. "You have to get on it immediately, and if you don't, that's the tragedies that happen."
Dalton and Linda Fredericks have started foundation to provide solutions and services for families who have been touched by drug use.

They've now started SOY Foundation, or Save Our Youth, in Jesse's honour in hopes of providing solutions, support and resources for families and friends affected by drug use.

"You don't think you would survive this, right?" said Linda. "It's not what Jesse wanted ... He had so much potential to really be a leader amongst his friends, and I think he would just be saying, 'Go mom and dad, go. You can't let this go.'"

They hope by starting the foundation and sharing Jesse's story, they can shine light on the problem and save lives. 

"We are now here saying that this happened to us," said Dalton. "How do we fix it?  Not to let it happen to other kids."


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