Windsor man remembers brother's final days at drug awareness event

Ryan Peter shared his message of loss and grief Thursday as part of a substance abuse awareness event Thursday at Tecumseh Vista Academy. His brother, Bryce, committed suicide at the age of 26.

'It's like a nightmare you can't wake up from'

Ryan Peter, right, is turning the most horrific experience of his family's life into a teaching tool for Tecumseh high school students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

"Why didn't we see any of the warning signs? Why didn't he ask for help? Why did he do this?" These are the questions etched in the mind of Ryan Peter.

Reflecting on his long-lasting depression, the East Windsor resident spoke to an audience of Tecumseh Vista Academy students. 

The school hosted a substance abuse awareness event Thursday, organized by the Tecumseh Community Policing Committee and community partners.

Out of nowhere

Peter and his girlfriend spent June 18, 2017 at Canada's Wonderland. They waited in long lines, sat on rides and did all the normal things people do at an amusement park. After a long day, they drove up to their AirBNB.

Before the couple got out of the car, Peter received a call from his cousin.

"It hit me ... and then I thought it was a dream. I didn't get upset. I just felt numb."

Peter's brother, 26-year-old Bryce, had hanged himself.

"I immediately drove home. It was the longest four hours of my life."

By the time Peter returned, his brother had died.

Ryan Peter shows a tattoo of his late brother in a presentation to Tecumseh Vista Academy students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Unable to cope

Peter describes his family as being "broken like shattered glass." He was forced to quit one of his jobs because of his lack of desire to be around people.

He said he hopes his story will prevent other families from being "shattered" due to substance abuse and depression.

"The good is that I did this speech today and I've been doing stuff on social media. But the bad definitely outweighs the good, especially at this chapter in my life. It's still very fresh. I find that it's just the intense sadness," adding he has not seen any of his friends since his brother's passing.

OPP Community Safety Officer Karen Sinnaeve said "getting information to parents" is the most difficult task behind substance abuse education. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

In with the new

Meanwhile, the Ontario Provincial Police is taking a new approach to substance abuse education — bringing experts to the students.

"We've got experts from the mental field, first responders, ... [staff] at Windsor Regional Hospital, EMS personnel and other partners. We've gotten them together to share what they see everyday," said Const. Karen Sinnaeve.

She said overdose rates are increasing in Windsor-Essex County because students do not understand the hidden dangers of drug use. 

"They think it's not all that dangerous, but they can possibly overdose without even knowing."

New forms of education also require a need for additional "teachers."

This is the first time the coroner's office has been invited to an event like this, according to Marven Oxley. (Sanjay Maru/ CBC)

Coroner Marven Oxley said he was surprised to be invited to Tecumseh Vista Academy but understands the need of participating in substance abuse education.

"The findings that coroners make through death investigations are very important in the overall preventive aspects that we can implement afterwards — statistics, how things are handled, how we can do things better," said Oxley.

Students understand the need

Grade 11 student Olivia Ducharme has seen the effects of drug use in her social circle. She said one of her friends started using drugs after entering a romantic relationship with another student.

"It's a pressure of them of wanting to please the other person."

Olivia Ducharme, a grade 11 student at Tecumseh Vista Academy, said other forms of substance abuse education "sugarcoat the truth." (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Regardless, students like Ducharme acknowledge the need for substance abuse education in high schools.

"They'll very casually introduce it to their friends ... It's just that they don't know," she explained.

Feeling distressed, depressed or suicidal? Help is available

1) Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare operates a 24-hour crisis line: (519) 973-4435. For more information on the warning signs of suicide, visit their website. 

2) The Distress Centre of Windsor and Essex County is open from noon to midnight 365 days a year and provides emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Contact them at 519-256-5000.

About the Author

Sanjay Maru

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at sanjay.maru@cbc.ca.