On the day her son’s classmates were getting ready for their high school prom, Oriol Rhodes was picking her only child Evan up from incarceration.
And she knew the first thing he’d be doing when he got out wasn’t finding a last-minute tux, but instead looking to score more drugs.
Now 19 years old and slowly emerging from a decade of drug use, Evan faces a long road to recovery. As an addict, it’s a road that never really ends.
The upper middle-class Grimsby family have decided to share their story as a way to put a face on the opioid epidemic and to call for officials to take a serious look at a crisis that has caused overdose to become the No. 1 cause of death among Canadian males 30 to 39 years old.
“I will fight and fight again. I will fight to save his life,” Rhodes said of her son.
The term “drug addict” tends to conjure up stereotypes. In a way, Evan’s descent into addiction fit some of those stereotypes. But in other ways, his story couldn’t be further from the picture people often paint in their minds.
For starters, Rhodes has more than 30 years of experience in the health-care industry. If anyone would be hyperaware of their child’s health and well-being, it would be Rhodes. And if there was anyone who would know where to turn when things went downhill, it would be Rhodes.
But she had no idea that drugs became a part of her son’s life before he even turned 10. Back in those days some of his friend’s older siblings thought it was funny to get the youngsters in a room and hotbox it. Marijuana became a fact of Evan’s and his friends’ lives long before facial hair or acne did.
“It crept into his life early,” Rhodes said. “He just kept spiraling deeper and deeper.”
She doesn’t consider weed the “gateway” drug that many people do, but still Evan eventually found his way to other drugs, including opioids. At the worst of it, Rhodes would drug test her son when he came home and he’d register positive for as many as eight of 10 common street drugs.
What also made the Rhodes’ story different from the stereotypes is socioeconomic status. Most people think of drug usage as confined to those in the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.
But the Rhodes family recently moved to Grimsby from Burlington. Both Rhodes and her husband maintained good-paying jobs. Evan had loving parents and a stable household. And he’s smart, too. Rhodes said an expert once told her there was nothing more dangerous than a smart, bored addict.
Yet, “by the end of Grade 9 he wasn’t getting out of bed,” said Rhodes.
In the depths of his addiction, many of those common ideas about addicts became a reality. He would steal to feed his addiction, including once taking what Rhodes described as a significant amount of money from his parents.
Put in rehab, he would quickly sign himself out and go out in search of drugs.
In time, the justice system would come calling. Then came an ultimatum. With Rhodes’ blessing, a judge offered Evan one of two choices, either go to jail or go to detox.
“I thought, if he goes to jail he might get help. If he doesn’t he’s going to die,” said Rhodes, without a hint of hyperbole.
He got into a long-term detox centre with an agreement that if he left the centre he’d be sent to jail.
The early days of detox were horrendous, but by about Week 6 he started coming out of the fog. At Week 12, Rhodes said, Evan turned a solid corner. Over the following three months he began rebuilding his life. Early this fall he left the rehab centre. And while the road ahead promises to be a challenge, there is at least some reason for optimism.
Evan is doing well in night school, working toward his high school diploma. He’s still a smart kid, Rhodes said, and that’s showing. He wants to enter the electrical trades and become an electrical engineer, like his dad.
But that won’t be easy. His addiction and time in rehab will always hang over any job application. And there’s always the fear of a relapse.
Rhodes said they just take each day as it comes. When Evan left the detox centre he was eager to become a contributing member of society, but Rhodes cautioned him not to rush into it.
While there looks to be a positive ending for the Rhodes family, that’s not the case for many others. And Rhodes doesn’t believe the system is set up to maximize the number of recoveries.
Evan uses cannabis oil to treat ADHD. While it’s scary knowing his past, Rhodes said it’s the best option for her son. With recreational cannabis now legal, she’d like to see profits from those sales fund detox centres.
She also wants more regulation around rehab, saying for-profit centres shouldn’t exist.
“I don’t think anyone should profit off someone’s demise,” she said.
And Rhodes wants changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to give parents more power when one of their children is dealing with substance abuse.
Also, education needs to start earlier and resources need to be enhanced, she says. Weed became a part of Evan’s life at age nine. Most people think of education on drugs as a high school issue, but Rhodes’ experience shows that’s not necessarily the case.
And as she searched for help, Rhodes struggled.
“It was so hard for me to see a path of resources that was helpful,” she said.
Opioid-related deaths have skyrocketed across Canada in recent years. According to Public Health Canada, more than 1,250 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes in 2017. In the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN region there were 214 such deaths last year.
Rhodes said her son knows a handful of people who have died. She believes that if the same number of people who are dying from fentanyl and other opioids were instead dying of the flu, the issue would be front and centre. But because it’s drugs, the crisis remains somewhat hidden.
Ideally, she’d like to see opioids “wiped off the face of the earth.”
– Forwarded from The Standard