A Kelowna man thought he was doing heroin, but it was pure fentanyl. And it killed him.

Tyler Leinweber was a 40-year-old father of two who became addicted to pain medication after doctors prescribed him OxyContin after an injury. He overdosed on what he thought was heroin but was in fact pure fentanyl.
Image Credit: Contributed

KELOWNA – A Kelowna man who died from an overdose thought he was taking heroin, but the coroner’s toxicology report says he was killed by a lethal dose of fentanyl.

“There was absolutely no heroin,” Tyler’s mother Helen Jennens says. “It was pure fentanyl.”

Tyler Leinweber was a 40-year-old father of two who became addicted to pain medication after doctors prescribed him OxyContin after an injury. He was a popular athlete at Okanagan Mission Secondary who risked his own life to save a fisherman during the 2004 tsunami that killed thousands in Thailand.

Twelve years later, Leinweber was working full-time, going to addiction counselling and was open and honest with his family about his problem, but he was still addicted to heroin.

His mother says the day Tyler died he was excited about his new therapy and talked about going again the next day. When his parents went to work Tyler went to his ex-wife’s house and called his dealer.

Jennens says she knows Tyler was not looking for fentanyl, not only because he told them how much heroin he took and how often, but police told her his cell phone had several texts to a known heroin dealer.

“When you read Tyler’s texts that’s what he thought he bought,” she says. “He bought two points (doses) and he died after the first point.”

A point, she says, is around $40 worth of heroin.

For Tyler, it was a lethal dose and his time of death is listed as between 1 and 2 p.m. on Jan. 14.

“(Leinweber) thought he had purchased heroin and was unaware of the presence of fentanyl,” the coronor's report notes. “Fentanyl level is within a range where therapeutic and lethal concentrations overlap.”

The report also says there were indicators of cocaine, meaning he had not taken it recently. He was also on a therapeutic dose of an antidepressant.

Jennens has spoken openly about the death of her son, as she believes more could be done to help addicts with their recovery. She says all treatment centres they contacted had wait lists or residency restrictions.

“People need to know that this isn’t just happening to homeless people on Hastings Street (in Vancouver),” she says. “It’s happening to fathers and sons in our community; people who want to get better but can’t. The Okanagan has turned into Death Valley.”

Earlier this week Interior Health issued a special warning about the rising prevalence of fentanyl in street drugs.

According to B.C. Coroners Service report “there has been a gradual increase in opioid related overdose deaths over the last 24 months across B.C., including communities within Interior Health. In 2015, Kelowna reported 17 overdose deaths, up from 12 the previous year. In addition, community agencies continue to receive reports about individuals experiencing fatal and non-fatal overdoses.”

Jennens says more needs to be done to raise awareness, adding clean needles from a safe injection site won't help with tainted drugs. The best start, she says, is to face how serious the problem is in the Okanagan.

“Not everyone wants to talk about addiction. They’re ashamed of it,” she says. “I just don’t feel like that. I know how sick Tyler was and how hard he was trying to kick it. They can’t be treated like pariahs, their lives are important. They have problems and there’s little help out there for them.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at aproskiw@infonews.ca or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

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