Pubdate: Fri, 01 Sep 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Nick Eagland
Page: A5


Cheryl Guardiero should have spent Thursday celebrating her son's 30th
birthday. Instead, she attended an International Overdose Awareness
Day vigil in Nanaimo, her boy now among the dead for whom they grieved.

Brett Colton Mercer was born in Nanaimo on Aug. 31, 1987, to loving
parents who eventually had five children. He died Aug. 19, 2017 of an
accidental drug overdose, alone in a motel room in Hope, where he had
recently landed a job with an oil and gas firm.

Guardiero learned of his death two days later, after she was unable to
contact him. She had just finished hiking Mount Horne with her
daughter when she got a phone call from her other son urging her to
get home immediately.

"It was the longest drive of my life," she said. "And then I just

A coroner told Guardiero that fentanyl had been cut into the cocaine
Mercer had been using, she said. Fentanyl has been detected in four
out of every five illicit-drug overdose deaths in B.C. this year. In
the first six months of 2017, illicitdrug overdoses killed 780 people
in the province, up from 418 during the same period in 2016, according
to B.C. Coroners Service data.

On Aug. 25, Fraser Health released a public warning after 17 suspected
overdose deaths in one week, all between Surrey and Hope. The health
authority noted that the overdose crisis "is disproportionately
affecting men between the ages of 19 and 59 in trade industries." Most
of the 17 had died in homes or hotels.

Cocaine crept into Mercer's life in his late teens after he graduated
from high school. He spent time in Ontario working on a poultry farm
with his best friend, who supported him during his battle with drugs,
but Mercer's heart was shattered two years ago when that friend
suddenly died. His addiction took a turn for the worse.

Wednesday, Mercer's obituary ran in The Province, describing his
battle with drugs and his family's desire that his service be devoted
to overdose awareness. With the obit ran a photo of Mercer - strapping
in a tight T-shirt beside his pickup, with his hair slicked back - a
man who fit right in at the work camps in northern B.C. and Alberta
where he toiled on pipelines and rigs.

He worked hard and made good money, and his friends in the oilpatch
became like family to him, Guardiero said. But privately, Mercer
fought a battle that kept him and his family in a perpetual state of

Guardiero, a nurse, remembered the first time she injected him with
the opioid-antidote naloxone and gave him rescue-breathing in the
family home one spring day last year. She would do this nine times
more in the following months. The family tried desperately to get
Mercer into treatment, but struggled to find a program that was
affordable, with no waiting list. In August last year, Mercer found
some success and managed to stay off drugs for six months, but he
slipped, Guardiero said.

He worried what his family and friends thought of him, telling his mom
that he "just wanted to be normal," she said. "I really had to make
him aware that, 'You're not disappointing your family - it's a disease
that you have and we're working through it together and we'll help.'

Guardiero is hopeful that the new provincial government will follow
through on Premier John Horgan's promise of an "ask-once,
get-help-fast" approach to mental health and addictions.

Meanwhile, Guardiero has embarked on a mission in Mercer's honour.
She'll continue to speak frankly about his addiction, which she
believes is important in combating the stigma that prevents some
people from seeking help and others from offering it. "He'd want
that," she said. She believes that if more people better understand
addiction - that it can affect homeless people and tradespeople alike
- - they won't be so quick to pass judgment and perpetuate that stigma.
Guardiero has seen the vile remarks made by some people on social
media, accusing parents of overdose victims of failing to try to help

But Mercer grew up in a loving home with four caring siblings and two
parents - though now separated - who adored him and whom he adored,
too. Guardiero doesn't know what, exactly, drove Mercer to use drugs,
but she's certain it wasn't a lack of love.

"I would never be ashamed of any of my children," she said. "I'm so
proud of him."

People who worked or were in treatment with Mercer are bombarding
Guardiero with messages telling her how kind he was, she said. She has
found support from Moms Stop the Harm, a growing group of bereaved
families who advocate for harm reduction and policy change.

On Thursday afternoon, Mercer's family released 30 purple balloons
into the sky above their Nanaimo home to celebrate his birthday,
before attending an overdose awareness-day event in Maffeo Sutton Park.

And Saturday, at Mercer's funeral at First Memorial, Guardiero will
say goodbye to the "little redhead fireball" who once loved to play
baseball and race his BMX, and who grew up to be a caring, empathetic
man that she was convinced would become a doting father.
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