Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jan 2016
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Tiffany Crawford
Page: A1


Ryan Norris spent years trying to find help for his mental illness and
addiction before dying of suspected fentanyl overdose

Ryan Norris, described as a kind-hearted person and once promising
athlete, spent his last days trying to get help for his addiction.

His spirits lifted, his mother Christine says, when he heard a space
had become available at the Sage Health Centre in Kamloops, one of
several treatment centres where he was wait-listed.

His bags were packed when, about a week before he died, he received a
call that the space was no longer available. He became despondent, and
left the house in what his mother believes was a search for heroin to
ease his pain.

Norris was among hundreds of mental health patients in B.C. waiting to
get long-term treatment.

In the Vancouver health region alone, there are around 400 mental
health patients on waiting lists for long-term housing, according to
the latest figures from last year from the B.C. Schizophrenia Society.
A spokesman for the B.C. Health Ministry, Stephen May, could not
confirm that number, but says the government "absolutely" agrees there
is a need for more mental health and substance-use beds in the province.

Norris, 35, was found dead in an east Vancouver apartment on Dec. 22,
one of several suspected fentanyl overdoses in December.

At the time, Vancouver police had just issued another warning about
the dangers of fentanyl being mixed in narcotics. The potentially
fatal drug is showing up in a variety of recreational drugs, including
cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy and Fake 80s, a pill designed to mimic
the strong painkiller OxyContin.

Norris didn't live at the East Van apartment on Triumph Street where
his body was found. He had been living with his parents in Lions Bay,
a quiet retreat from his struggles with addiction and depression, a
home that he, a professional contractor, had helped to build.

As a boy, Norris was quiet and kept to himself most days. If he
struggled then with mental health illness, he didn't talk about it,
according to his cousin Megan Baker, 36, and his mother.

But after he lost his lucrative construction firm, house and wife
during the recession of 2008, everything changed. He had a psychotic

Over the next seven years, he would struggle with depression, anxiety,
schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies. He also suffered from
concussions - one sustained while trying to kill himself by driving
into a stone wall, and the other after he fell off a ladder while
painting the family house.

When pharmaceuticals failed to help with what his mother believes was
an enormous amount of pain, he self-medicated with street drugs.

On the dining room table, Christine Norris displays photographs of her
son. In several, he's with his five-year-old son Max, whom family say
he adored. Next to the photos, a large silver platter of white candles
burn in memorial.

"I just like to feel the warmth from the flame," she says, tears
filling her eyes. It has been only a few days since they held his
celebration of life. "I am still so very sad, but I am also angry."

She's resentful of a health care system that failed her son, one
lacking in long-term recovery beds for those suffering from addiction
and mental illness.

Beside Christine sits a banker's box stuffed to the brim with papers,
files - Ryan's court documents, recovery reports and release forms.
The box details the last five years of her life as she tried in vain
to get her son committed to long-term psychiatric care.

She booked him into several short-term centres, including a 60-day
Christian retreat, but after each one he'd have a relapse. Family
strife mounted as they racked up bills in the thousands.

"I just feel like, why isn't there a place where they can get better
first, then go to a treatment centre when their brain is thinking
clearly?" Christine asks. "These guys need long-term help."

The Health Ministry has pledged to create an additional 500 beds in
B.C. by 2017, spokesman May said, including the new Riverview project.
The B.C. government announced plans in mid-December to invest $175
million to revamp Coquitlam's Riverview lands into a mixed-use
community hub for mental health care, including a 105-bed mental
health facility.

"It's important to remember that tertiary mental health facilities,
like the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction soon (to) be relocated
to the Riverview lands, are not intended to provide lifelong care to
patients, but rather to stabilize them to a point where they can be
transitioned to rehabilitation and recovery services," May says.

Still, mental health care advocates say it's not enough.

"It is basically a relocation of current services," Deborah Conner,
executive director of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, says about the
Riverview plan. "It does not impact those people who are on wait
lists, living on the streets, or in those broken down buildings on the
Downtown Eastside with no heat or hot water."

While he was on several waiting lists, Ryan was turned away from
several local hospitals over the past couple of years, Christine says,
including St. Paul's Hospital just a week before his death.

"He just said, ' Mom, they just gave me a bunch of Ativan and kicked
me out,' " Christine says. "His eyes were rolling in the back of his
head. Now I don't know if what he said was true, but they should not
have released him in that state."

When a few days later, Ryan was picked up by the police, she says she
begged them to hold him because of his medical record of drug abuse
and depression. She was scared that he had become a danger to himself.

Brian Montague, a Vancouver police spokesman, would not comment on the
Norris case, citing privacy laws, but says police cannot lawfully
apprehend someone for psychiatric assessment unless they meet certain
criteria under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act. "Police cannot
arbitrarily detain, arrest, or apprehend someone without a reason that
is supported by law," he says.

Baker, Ryan's cousin and friend, wants people to know he was a deeply
caring person who got sick. And like anyone who falls ill, she says,
he needed ongoing help.

"Addicts are not a thing. They are not human waste. They are a human
soul that is in turmoil," Baker says. "You may think they chose this
life, but we can't know what they have endured."
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