Pubdate: Thu, 31 Mar 2016
Source: Now, The (Surrey, CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Amy Reid


When Donna May's daughter died of an overdose in 2012, a drug that may
have saved her life was within arm's reach

It's every parent's worst nightmare - watching your child

Yet that was Donna May's reality on Aug. 21, 2012.

That night, May returned home from walking her dogs to find her
daughter Jac, a longtime addict, overdosing.

"I could hear the normal sounds of an overdose," she said. "The
laboured breath. The snoring. The gurgling sounds. I flew upstairs."

Jac was rushed to hospital, where May watched as her daughter's ribs
were broken during CPR. She stood by as Jac inhaled her own vomit
before going into cardiac arrest and ultimately succumbing to the overdos

Narcan, also known as naloxone, was within arm's reach at the hospital
that night. The synthetic drug, often referred to as an "overdose
antidote," could have saved her life.

It wasn't used.

Surrey's Gateway shelter uses it every day.

"I didn't even know what naloxone was until I read the name of the
drug in my daughter's coroner's report," said May.

Since that day, she's fought for change: Change in access to naloxone,
change in the perception of drug users and change in drug policy.

She's spoken at countless conferences, held rallies on Parliament
Hill, and founded momsDU, (Moms United and Mandated to Saving the
Lives of Drug Users), which has lobbied for naloxone to be available
without a prescription.

That became a reality on March 22.

It's exciting news for May. And she thanks the federal Liberal

"I have gotten further in having my words heard in the five months of
Liberal reign, than I have in the 38 months I advocated for change
during the Conservative government's slamming of the door on my nose,"
she said.

May now hopes to see naloxone become as common as a

"It should be in every medicine cabinet in the country and the world.
Just in case. There are no negative effects to this drug other than
putting somebody into a withdrawal," she remarked.

May said her grandson once asked her why she supported naloxone. After
all, wasn't is just an excuse to use drugs? A failsafe?

"I said, 'Honey, if your friends are doing drugs anyway, don't you
want to be able to save their life?'"

May now carries naloxone with her wherever she goes.

"I won't let somebody else's child die."

Jac's story is not one of peace or happiness. Her life revolved around
drugs, crime and violence for the better part of her adult life.

Jac, pictured, bounced between her mother and father's home as a teen,
spending some time in foster care. She had her first child at 17,
another at 18.

Jac's opioid addiction "took off" after being prescribed oxycontin for
pain after falling down a flight of stairs at about 19.

After her father's sudden death in 2004, May could tell something was

"She acted strangely and impulsively." Jac was also pregnant with her
third child, who she gave birth to at age 22. The children in her care
were taken away by the ministry years later, after they didn't attend
school for weeks.

Not a year after, Jac and a boyfriend were on the run after a shooting
during a drug deal went south, said May. Jac entered a women's shelter
but soon began stealing and prostituting herself.

"We began to notice a pattern that she would be arrested and released
immediately, then a day or two later there would be a major bust,"
recalled May.

"We weren't the only ones who noticed. So did the dealers and

May believes a hit was put out on Jac - she was beaten in 2010,
suffering a broken orbital bone, broken jaw and head

Jac fled from her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., to Surrey in May
of 2011, immediately after testifying at the trial of her attackers.
She stayed at a shelter, then a "recovery home," said May.

Within months, Jac developed plural septic pneumonia and was in Surrey
Memorial Hospital until just before Christmas, then returning to the
recovery home. May said within a matter of days, she was dealing for a

"It was then that I realized that it wasn't a recovery home at all and
was not only taking money from me, but also had Jac on welfare," May

Weeks later, Jac was back in hospital. She had a flesh eating disease,
contracted through drug use. Doctors told the family they'd have to
amputate both legs.

When May arrived, doctors had not amputated, "as it was too late." The
infection had spread too far. May was told Jac likely had just a few
days left.

"Jac believed she could recover," said May. "She told me she wanted us
to try to use that time to right some of the wrongs she had done."

In February 2012, May took Jac back to Ontario to care for her. She
was in and out of hospital for infection treatment and more surgeries.

The week of her death, May thought Jac had turned a

"For the first time I had hope. The morning of her overdose, she had
gotten up in the morning, made her own bed, had a shower on her own
for the first time and had dressed and put makeup on for the first
time since becoming ill."

Around noon, Jac received a phone call that disturbed her. "I found
her crying at the garden table. She told me she was so sorry for
screwing up her children's lives and felt she could never be forgiven."

May soon realized Jac had removed her fentanyl patch, prescribed for
the pain of her flesh-eating disease.

"She showed signs of flushing it down the toilet. Our rule was I take
it off, I inspect it. She broke that confidence," said May.

After dinner, she walked the dogs and returned to find Jac

She sat in hospital as Jac's respirations and heart rate declined. Jac
was revived and taken to critical care where she remained in a coma.
She had been oxygen deprived for 22 minutes, by May's count, and brain
death is said to occur at just 15.

"If Jac survived off of artificial respiration, she would be severely
handicapped. The family decided to let nature take its course."

Jac died without waking up about eight hours later.

The autopsy revealed Jac had a fentanyl patch in her esophagus - the
one she claimed to have flushed.

It also showed Cymbalta, a medication May takes for

"Everything of hers was locked in a safe=C2=85 My medication was in the
bathroom drawer. I never thought for a minute you could overdose on
it. But it was enough to throw her over the edge," said May.

"It was something that would allow her to end her life."

May vows to continue her fight in honour of Jac, now turning her
attention to safe injection sites and other drug policy reforms.

"This is for her," she said. "But it's for the others that have not
yet died because they don't need to=C2=85 There is recovery."


Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive medical director for BC Centre for Disease
Control, applauded Health Canada's decision to make naloxone
prescription-free, but said it's far from a solution to the "public
health emergency."

The drug death tally in B.C. in 2015 was 474, 100 more than 2014.
Another 132 died in the first two months of 2016.

Naloxone becoming prescription-free, he said, "doesn't change much for
the more street-entrenched user."

He explains. "They're likely not in a position where they'd be able to
walk into a pharmacy and buy a kit. It's not going to be covered by
Pharmacare, and we don't know how much the pharmacies will charge for
it." The change will largely help arm caregivers, friends or family of
opioid users with naloxone.

BCCDC already offers free naloxone kits to users through its Take Home
Naloxone Program ( Since August 2012, the program
has trained 6,835 people and helped to reverse 488 overdoses in B.C.
"It's unlikely that (the prescription status change) will mean much to
people who are already getting naloxone kits through our program."

Tyndall said naloxone is a "very downstream intervention."

While successful when used during an overdose, many people are found
dead of overdose hours or days later. "Naloxone is a critical
intervention that's given as early as possible. Relatively few people
are picked up that early."

More engagement is what's needed and according to Tyndall, that's best
done through safe injection sites.

"It has a lot of opportunity, as seen with Insite (in Vancouver) to
engage people in longer-term care from medical care, mental health
care and housing care."

Tyndall has worked on Surrey's 135A Street in Whalley a couple times a
month for about a decade.

He said the way people are treated there is "abysmal."

"Every morning they come and clear the streets of people. The
resources going into the police and the dump trucks and the city
workers is crazy. The people doing it know it's not really helping
anything. Everyday they just clean up the streets and push people into
some fields and two hours later they come back."

Tyndall said better help could be offered with minimal investment."We
could put up a tent tomorrow with a couple nurses on a lot in Surrey.
It could happen in an hour. It's just the bureaucracy and the
exemption status that people are concerned about. I feel we should
wave that and move on. This is a provincial matter."

Going through normal federal channels would optimistically take two to
three years, he said. "By then, there could be several thousand
deaths. That's not an appropriate response."

Tyndall said the perception of addicts also needs to change. "These
people may be down on their luck but certainly don't deserve to die.
We need to be much more empathetic toward the plight of people and
give them a fighting chance."

- --------------------

NEXT WEEK: After a man overdosed in her arms, Erin Schulte armed
herself with naloxone. How you can too.
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