Last year a young man from Williams Lake was found dead in his home, curled up in the fetal position, his computer in his lap and a gash in his head from falling.
Resuscitation efforts made by his roommate who discovered him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead on scene, June 20, 2015.
At the time, all his heartbroken mother knew was that her son, Damon, who had just turned 22 the month before and loved his new job, music and his girlfriend, was likely the victim of some sort of accidental drug overdose which she suspected was brought on by the grief he was feeling after losing his grandfather days earlier.
It wasn’t until this summer, however, a full year later, that the coroner confirmed the young man died from overdosing on a powerful opioid — namely fentanyl.
“He didn’t want to die,” said his mom, Cori Olesen.
“Back when the police told me, it was complete disbelief … I had just lost my dad. I couldn’t lose my son.”
When Cori lost her son last year, the dangers of fentanyl were only beginning to surface publicly.
According to the BC Coroners Service, the family isn’t alone in their grief. In 2015 there were 508 drug overdose deaths recorded in B.C.
By April 2016, a full ten months after Damon’s death, the B.C. government declared a public health crisis surrounding illicit drug overdoses, with a staggering 555 overdose deaths recorded up to Sept. 2016 so far.
Individuals aged 19 to 29 and 30 to 39 have accounted for the largest percentage of overdoses this year, with males making up 80 per cent of the deaths. Preliminary data suggests the portion of drug overdose deaths for which fentanyl was detected has increased to about 61 per cent from 30 per cent in 2015.
Cori said she hadn’t even heard about fentanyl until she spoke to the coroner about it. She is haunted, however, by the small bottle of pills she found hidden in her son’s closet that she said “looked like shiny little white candies” and that she now believes were laced with fentanyl.
Recently she went searching for answers at the community forum on fentanyl held at city hall in Williams Lake.
“I needed more information and I needed closure as well, right? It hit home, going there.”
Cori described her son as “sweet” and “the baby of the family.”
“We were close. He always needed to be near me until he was older, that’s when he started putting up a wall.”
Cori said her son, an avid musician, started struggling in school as a young teen and experimenting with drugs at about the same time.
“I’m thinking now I was a (bad) mom — not there for him,” said Cori, racked by guilt over her son’s death. “Some have said I was an enabler. I don’t know. I did the best I could with the knowledge I had. It’s heartbreaking, every day not having him.”
She said at times her son seemed “lost and lonely” in his late teens, opting to be a couch surfer at friends’ homes, while other times he looked like he was getting his life together, moving into his own place and enjoying his job at The Loon.
“Music was his life. That’s what he really wanted to do.”
Cori said most days she would pick her son up for coffee and would always talk to him daily via text message.
“I felt it was my responsibility to take care of him. Even though he was an adult, I felt he needed me.”
It has been one year and four months since Damon’s death, and his mom said it still feels like yesterday, although she is comforted by the fact he will live on through his young daughter.
“We miss Damon. I know he was loved by many.”
Her hope now is by sharing her story she can reach others who may not know the real risks of taking street drugs.
“I know kids, they smoke pot, do a line, take a pill. I’m thinking do I need to have a (naloxone) kit for my friends? It’s scary, very scary. Even marijuana isn’t safe. And how do you help someone who doesn’t want help? I just wish there was more information for the young people, the ones who are out of school and don’t get the information, so parents don’t have to grieve like I do,” she said.
“It’s the wrong life cycle. I’m supposed to go first.”
Cori said she would be interested in being a part of a support group for parents who have lost a child. Anyone wishing to contact Cori can do so through the Williams Lake Tribune office.