September 10, 2016 - 4:30 PM
"THIS IS REAL. THIS HAPPENS, AND IT HAPPENED TO US."
VERNON - They have to choke back tears to do it, but Melanie and Leo Pouliot persist in telling the story of how a fentanyl-laced drug killed their son this summer in Vernon. They hope you’ll read their story. They don't want you going through it, too.
Adam Pouliot, 26, was employed as a steel worker up north, but lived in Vernon with his fiancée. When he wasn’t working, he was body-building at the gym, playing guitar, golfing, skiing, camping or wedding planning.
“He had a lot of energy, a real go-getter,” mom Melanie says. “He was a natural at everything he put himself into.”
He also had his struggles. His older brother — his mentor and hero — died in 2011 after a long battle with brain cancer, something Melanie says was extremely hard on Adam. He got caught up in drugs and alcohol as a teen, and struggled with drinking after high school. In 2015, he came to his parents for help and they got him into a treatment program. By the following year, he was doing well again. He’d met the love of his life and they couldn’t wait to get married. He was happy and healthy, his mom says, but one night he slipped up.
“LITTLE DID HE KNOW WHAT HE PURCHASED WAS LETHAL”
On July 27, sometime after midnight, Adam went to the 7-Eleven in Vernon to buy a lighter. That’s where he ended up buying what he thought was just cocaine, but was actually laced with fentanyl. He overdosed while hanging out with a friend. First responders were unable to revive him.
A toxicology report showed a lethal dose of fentanyl, and moderate level of alcohol intoxication.
“The challenge with Adam was when he drank alcohol, his guard would come down. The boundaries he normally had lowered,” Melanie says. “He had a slip up and it just so happened to be the night he bought cocaine laced with fentanyl. Little did he know, what he purchased was lethal.”
The Pouliots are a close family and Melanie and Leo say they talked to their son about everything. He was open with them about his issues, and they were always there for him.
Since Adam’s death, Melanie and Leo have learned all about the fentanyl epidemic claiming lives across B.C., and the potentially life-saving drug called Naloxone that can reverse overdoses.
“We could talk to Adam about anything. If we’d known this (naloxone kit) was available, we would’ve talked to him about it,” Melanie says. “I don’t know if he had the awareness of fentanyl-lacing. We never had that conversation as a family. My husband and I had read about it in the news, but we weren’t really aware.”
“If we would’ve known, Adam would probably still be alive,” adds Leo.
Adam and his dad Leo.
Image Credit: Melanie Pouliot
A HEALTH CRISIS
Fentanyl has been found cut into everything from cocaine to heroin or pressed into pills of all description, sometimes made to look like other drugs like oyxcontin. The lethal drug, said to be 100 times stronger than heroin, is taking lives at an alarming rate. In the first half of 2016, 371 people lost their lives to overdoses in B.C., with 60 per cent of those cases showing traces of fentanyl. As of May, 31 deaths within the Interior Health Authority region were linked to fentanyl — already ten more than in all of 2015.
The risk of fentanyl-laced drugs wasn’t on Melanie and Leo’s radar, and it probably wasn’t on Adam’s either.
“We want there to be awareness for parents to talk to their kids, and help them to be aware this is real. This happens and it happened to us. Adam didn’t want to die. He was so ready to live,” Melanie says.
They can’t help but wonder how differently things could have gone. What if the friend Adam was with that night knew the signs of an overdose? What if they’d had a naloxone kit close by?
Naloxone is now carried by first responders in some communities and take-home kits are routinely handed out at hospitals. Health Minister Terry Lake announced in August that kits are now also available at all pharmacies without a prescription. Melanie and Leo are encouraging everyone to pick up a kit, because you never know when you could use it to save a life.
Credit: Vimeo/Hello Cool World
“Keep it in your glovebox,” Melanie says.
Beyond education and tools like naloxone, they are also hoping to see more support for people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse — an illness that took Adam the same way cancer stole their other son.
“For us as parents, we had both: One with cancer and one with challenges around substance abuse. The support we had around our son with cancer was unbelievable, and it was the complete opposite with our youngest son,” Melanie says.
She notes the high cost of treatment facilities — as much as $28,000 for three weeks — is a huge barrier for people and wants to see resources improved for those struggling with substance abuse.
It’s not easy to talk about losing their son, and Leo admits anger is what first compelled him to speak publicly about it.
“I was angry our son died in this manner, that he didn’t want to die and it could have been different. We wanted to put the word out there. It’s been really tough, but if we can save one life, it’s worth it,” he says.
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