Pubdate: Tue, 05 Sep 2017
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Fort McMurray Today
Author: Cullen Bird
Page: A2


An opioid crisis is bringing together friends and family members of
overdose victims who want to support others going through the same

Fort McMurray residents Mari-Lee Paluszak, 55, and Holly Meints, 51,
both lost sons to accidental overdoses last year. Both attended
Overdose Awareness Day at the Wood Buffalo Regional Library last
Thursday to help put a face to the drug overdose problem, and to
promote a support group for people suffering the same grief as their
own. Their new group, On A Dragonfly's Wings, is meant to provide
mutual support for grieving family members of overdose victims.

"It helps to connect with people who have lost someone," Paluszak

Growing up, Paluszak's son Todd was a "happy-golucky kid" who loved
hockey and drama, but began struggling with mental health issues as a
teenager. At 19, he moved to Calgary hoping to start a career as an
actor and model. But he took rejection hard, Paluszak said, and
started abusing drugs after his girlfriend at the time broke up with

He went through recovery and treatment twice during the next ten
years, then moved to Fort McMurray to work at a gravel-crushing
company. He found a new girlfriend while being treated at the Pastew
Place Detoxification Centre near Gregoire. After leaving recovery, he
became a role model for other recovering addicts in his Narcotics
Anonymous group.

But in February 2016, he relapsed, though no one could find out why,
Paluszak said.

"We tried desperately to try to get him to go for help. He was saying
to me 'when I get enough money mom, I will'. And I kept saying to him,
'don't worry about the money.'"

They discussed it again a week before his death. On Oct. 5, 2017, he
died of an accidental overdose at 29, leaving behind his
threemonth-old daughter, Hayden. An autopsy found fentanyl and cocaine
in his system. Paluszak believes his dealer cut the cocaine with
fentanyl without his knowledge. Meints describes her son Christopher
as a bright, sweet and kind kid, whose teachers often remarked on his
athleticism and skill at any sport. But he struggled with mental
health issues from an early age.

"He had a lot of inner demons right from the time he was just a little
boy," Meints said, adding she went to many agencies and organizations
trying to get him the care he needed.

Things became more difficult after he suffered a severe head injury at
19, which put him in hospital for five weeks. After the injury, he
wasn't the same, Meints said. He grew distant, quicker to anger and
more easily led by his friends, she said.

He had a hard time holding down jobs and became addicted to

Three years before his death, the two had a fight over something he
had done and stopped speaking to each other. He died of an accidental
overdose on Aug. 8, 2016 at 28. An autopsy found cocaine and fentanyl
in his system. Meints said she does not believe he knew he was taking

Both women agree that, were it not for fentanyl, their sons would
still be alive today.

"A lot of people are having accidental overdoses because they have
fentanyl laced into things," said Madison Schiltroth, overdose
prevention nurse with HIV North.

"If there's a little bit of fentanyl in something, it will give a
really good high, so you'll get more people wanting to buy your
product," she said.

Lacing other drugs with fentanyl also helps get clients addicted
faster, she said.

Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid, and outside of a pharmacy it is
impossible to ensure a safe dose in a streetpressed pill, Schiltroth
said. One pill may contain just enough to give a good high, while the
other contains enough to kill.

Ken Jefferson, 48, has lost both his son Brandon and his older brother
Donnie to drugoverdoses.

Brandon died at the age of 21, on Oct. 7, 2015. A few days earlier,
his grandfather had died.

"He was home from work and just looking for a high to numb the pain,"
Ken said.

The street-pressed antianxiety pill Brandon took was laced with
fentanyl. When his parents found him, Brandon was rushed to the
hospital, but could not be saved.

Ken and his wife Natalie were offered counselling, but neither felt
comfortable accepting it. Looking back, Ken says it was likely that
they feared the counsellors would be dismissive, labelling their son
as a "addict."

"As a grieving parent that's not something you want to deal with," he

People need to break the stigma around drug use and drug addiction, he
said. Ken also encouraged those who have lost loved ones to drug use
to reach out to On A Dragonfly's Wings.

"We're here to listen, we're here to help, we're here to share
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