My son's addictions killed him. His death shows how our systems need to change

Addiction must be addressed as a health issue.  Our systems are ass-backwards. 

'Addiction must be addressed as a health issue'

Cheryl Deschene's son Jordan Allen Bundus died in 2015 after years of struggling with addictions. (Supplied by Cheryl Deschene)

This piece was originally published on April 24, 2019.

Nearly every time Jordan called from jail, the conversation started the same. 

"Hey mom," or, "Howdy partner, what's up?"

"Nothin Jord, what are you doing?"

"Awww, just bein' tough."

Now I honour his memory by "bein' tough" in my own way and advocating for changes that might have saved his life.

Addiction must be addressed as a health issue.  Our systems are ass-backwards. 

'Anxious days and sleepless nights'

Cheryl Deschene says her son Jordan Allen Bundus was a happy baby. (Supplied by Cheryl Deschene)

Jordan was born on October 22, 1987.  He was a happy baby and grew into a stubborn, adventurous little boy.  If trouble wasn't following him, he went looking for it. 

He loved animals. He loved being at his grandpa's farm and "working" in the shop.  He played hockey and baseball. He had many friends and enthusiastically participated in the shenanigans of boyhood.

Now, imagine this: you get a phone call and the person on the other end of the line tells you that your 14 year old son — that same kid — is using crack cocaine. 

Fast forward through four years of utter hell on earth.  Anxious days and sleepless nights. Curfews, court dates, police, handcuffs, fights, yelling and destruction. Countless visits to local drug houses to find your child followed by countless visits to youth detention facilities. Watching the light in your child's eyes dimming until all you can see is shame, hopelessness, anger and fear.

If we continue to make this a moral and criminal matter, we will continue to lose our loved ones to the streets, jail and death.- Cheryl Deschene

Jordan was 18 when he went into a gas station and demanded money while holding a small jack knife. He was high, of course. 

The attendant told him to get lost. He did, but he needed a ride home so he called a taxi and gave the driver his home address. Since the "robbery" was a bust, he didn't have any money, so he punched the driver instead. 

Do these sound like the actions of a criminal mastermind to you? Me neither. Jordan was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to three years in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary. It was the beginning of the end.

'I knew that he was gone'

Jordan would go on to serve federal and provincial sentences. All of his crimes were fueled by his addictions. The substance of choice changed from time to time, but the substance use disorder remained intact. 

Jordan was released from jail for the last time on May 16, 2015. He died the next day.

Jordan Allen Bundus died on May 17, 2015, one day after getting out of jail. (Submitted by Cheryl Deschene)

The last time I saw Jordan alive, he looked me square in the eye and said "I love you mom," he embraced me and kissed me on the lips. Jordan never kissed me on the lips.  He waved to me and I waved back.

Jordan wouldn't respond when his brother went up to his room to wake him the next morning. I knew that he was gone the second I saw him.  His eyes were open and cloudy and his body felt cold, clammy and empty. 

The cause of death was attributed to a lethal cocktail of substances in his system. Any one of them could have killed him.

Jordan was compassionate, kind, smart, well spoken, articulate, adaptable, loving and fiercely loyal.  I was proud of him. He was not defined by his addiction or the choices he made while in the throes of his disease.

'We must shift how we think'

Individuals don't "choose" the disease of addiction any more than they "choose" the disease of diabetes. 

The mental and physical anguish caused by addiction is compounded by the mistreatment, humiliation and judgements doled out by society at large. All of our systems — health care, judicial, social services, policing, corrections — are broken, disjointed, insufficient and inefficient. 

Addicts want their lives back, but for many their situation feels insurmountable.  The crippling stigma attached to addiction makes it hard to reach out for help. 

Jordan found himself in an impossible predicament, addicted to crack while still a child. He lacked the insight to see how much he was hurting himself. 

Cheryl Deschene says she wonders whether better societal supports would have saved her son Jordan Allen Bundus. (Supplied by Cheryl Deschene)

A part of me wonders if things could have been different. What if, instead of locking him in a youth detention facility, he was placed in a holistic health care facility that catered to his physical and mental wellness? 

We must shift how we think about the disease and those who suffer it. We need to build responsive systems. We need early education and intervention, publicly funded detoxification and treatment facilities with compassionate treatment, safe consumption sites, harm reduction initiatives, life and employment training opportunities and decriminalization of all drugs. 

If we continue to make this a moral and criminal matter, we will continue to lose our loved ones to the streets, jail and death. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Cheryl Deschene works as the Executive Director/Registrar of a health professional regulatory body. On a part-time basis she facilitates group sessions with an organization that supports pregnant women with substance use disorder.


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