By Gillian Slade on August 9, 2018.
The overdose that killed him ended his life far too early.
Two years ago, 31-year-old Neil Balmer died on Canada Day after a 10- to 12-year battle with addiction, anxiety and depression, his mother Kym Porter recently told the News.
“This is a health issue, it is not a moral issue,” she said before telling a story of a young man who fell victim to the very medication prescribed to make him feel better. “It needs to be dealt with with compassion.”
She was alone, about 10 p.m., the night a police officer came knocking on her door. Balmer had died of an accidental fentanyl overdose.
“This was not his first overdose but it was his last,” Porter said, citing at least two more.
She was told posthumously of an overdose he’d had a couple months prior to his death. She says he’d been admitted to hospital, then discharged without being given a Naloxone kit — the antidote used to reverse a fentanyl overdose — though that protocol has since changed.
Learning more after death of the struggle with addiction is all too common for family members, as addicts are often good at hiding the extent of it.
Balmer was no different.
“In retrospect, I didn’t have any idea of the depth of it,” Porter said.
Her son had experienced some physical trauma during childhood, such as a broken neck from a trampoline accident. He was prescribed opioids for the pain.
Porter says once the addiction kicked in and local prescriptions couldn’t fulfil his needs, Balmer began to work the medical system in other cities to obtain more prescription opioids. Eventually, as that too became harder to achieve, the search moved on to non-prescription drugs.
Porter says he’d suffered from anxiety and depression before the opioid addiction, but had masked it well with a sense of humour.
He had been seeing a psychiatrist and counsellor. Years before, he spent seven days at the Lloydminster detox centre. Porter had wanted him to stay longer for treatment but he wasn’t receptive to that — saying the stigma surrounding a trip to detox left him feeling ashamed for years.
Porter remembers her son as a people person — artistic, wanting to help others, compassionate. He worked to become an EMT, and had nearly reached the paramedic level when an accident in the ambulance caused him to lose his job.
He moved to Lethbridge to work at a drug treatment centre but was eventually released.
He’d come home to visit one Christmas when his mother realized his drug use had become a problem. She found a needle in his pocket.
Concerned about younger children in the home, a decision was made that he could not be in the house. He was able to move around for a while, staying with various local friends before securing a job at the city. He died a short time later.
Porter feels that for those whom have never known the effects of addiction on a loved one, it might be easy to lose sight of the fact her son was a much cherished young man.
She says inappropriate labels are often given to addicts, citing officers at the time of his death referring to Balmer as being part of a “sub-culture.” Porter says the term was “incredibly hurtful” to hear, and says titles of that nature are “insidious, de-humanizing and isolating.”
Porter claims recent stories published in the News have helped to develop a sense of fear around a planned supervised consumption site, and believes there are credible reports of sites working well.
She says safe consumption is about so much more than supervised drug use, feeling the professionals on site are better qualified to talk with addicts.
Local addiction services have increased in the past few years, such as the opening of the Residential Recovery Centre. But Porter suggests taking newer, more innovative approaches to tackling the epidemic of addiction.
She cites Portugal, which decriminalized its illicit drugs, saying that country has seen fewer people die because it is no longer hidden on the black market. By definition, it would also decrease criminal activity, she says.
Porter would like to give a message to parents and loved ones of those suffering from addiction: Don’t get discouraged. A breakthrough can take many attempts.
And her message to the general public? Behind every overdose is family and a personal story.
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