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Overdose deaths among youth require action

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/8/2011 (2195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is a place in Winnipeg that does body counts.

It does it annually for the province, and last week I called the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner with a question.

Donna and (right) Kara Twomey, mother and sister of drug overdose victim Derek Twomey, 21, hold a picture of Derek and a quilt made from his T-shirts.


Donna and (right) Kara Twomey, mother and sister of drug overdose victim Derek Twomey, 21, hold a picture of Derek and a quilt made from his T-shirts.

Derek Twomey with mother, Donna.


Derek Twomey with mother, Donna.

I wanted to know how many young Manitobans had died by accidental drug overdose over the last several years.

I wanted to know because this year, two families I know personally each lost sons by accidental drug overdose. I wanted to know because those body counts didn't feel like a number to me.

Especially after I spoke with one of the mothers.

-- -- --

Donna Twomey brought an album full of pictures and tributes, and on the first page, under a photo of what must have been Derek's stuffed toy and baby blanket, were these words from his Aunt Ginny:

"My earliest memory of Derek is before he was born. I remember Donna and Brian coming to my parents' home for dinner. I remember the protective way Brian helped Donna through the front door. I remember the look in their eyes. Joy, pride and a little fear as they told us they were going to be taking on the hardest job in the world -- being parents... "

Derek would have been 22 this month. And seven months after he died, Donna Twomey is still angry.

Beyond angry, actually.

Her son, the athlete and university student, the kid who was always helping everyone else, and the boy she thought knew better made a stupid decision, as Donna calls it.

On a typically frigid January night in Winnipeg, he overdosed on prescription pills more commonly meant for relieving the pain of people in palliative care.

People who are dying.

Not 21-year-olds who are just beginning to live.

So, understandably, she's angry.

Particularly at Derek's pal since kindergarten, who she believes brought the hydromorphone into the basement of their St. Vital home that night. A pill for which a pharmacy pays less than $4 for a pack of 25, and, according to police, is sold on the street at a buck a pill, maybe $1.25.

I ask Donna how she copes.

"I don't know that I'm coping," she says. "I might be in a little bit in denial. I'm very mad at Derek. I know that one day I'll remember how beautiful he was."

But as we continue to talk, as I listen, it's clear she remembers how beautiful he was. It's just that there's no pill for this kind of pain; the pain that will never really go away -- and the anger -- that clouds the remembering.

Still, there are some things -- another set of parents' pain that led to Derek's death -- that are clear. How he and his kindergarten pal reconnected, for instance.

One of their mutual friends from school committed suicide in early January. And the father of the kindergarten pal called Donna and asked if Derek would talk to his son. The boy was having difficulty with the suicide and the loss of his friend.

So that night, Derek and his girlfriend went out to comfort the grieving boy.

The one who, in a matter of weeks, allegedly brought the prescription pills over to Twomey's house that late January night Derek died.

What adds bitterness to the anger is Derek had been complaining that morning about the boy pestering him with texts he wouldn't answer.

Obviously he answered the last one.

More anger.

Derek had been bartending at The Keg on Kenaston the night before he died.

"I didn't hear him come in," Donna said. "The dog didn't even bark."

Donna remembers the next morning. The phone call from Derek's girlfriend saying she couldn't reach him.

And how she knew as soon as she hit the bottom step to the basement that something was wrong.

She found Derek in bed.

"It was like he was sleeping."

But he was blue.

The paramedics told her the drug would have gone straight to the part of his brain that controls breathing.

Donna remembers something else.

Talking to Derek about drugs.

"He said, 'Mum, everybody does it.' "

When she asked him if he was doing anything, he said, 'Mum, I've tried a few things. I didn't like it.' "

I know why Donna wanted to talk to me. It wasn't just the anger.

It was because she doesn't want anyone else to be angry the way she is.

She doesn't want other parents like her and Brian and other siblings, like their 19-year-old daughter, Kara, to go through the pain for which there is no painkiller.

She wants parents to warn their children like she tried to.

She wants other young people to learn from Derek's mistake.

Finally, I asked Donna what Derek wanted to do with his life.

"He was still trying to figure that out. In the end there, I think he was thinking he would get his degree in psychology.

"Maybe get into education. The resource side. So he could, sadly, deal with people who had issues or problems. Or addictions."

-- -- --

There is a place in Winnipeg that does body counts.

There have been 83 in the past five years, 43 in the last two.

So far, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says those numbers are too small, too statistically unreliable, to prove a trend.

In Ontario, they've already held an inquest into the death of two people, 11 days apart, who OD'd on prescription pills. That inquest made 42 recommendations.

I have only one recommendation for the the Office of the Chief Medical Officer.

Call an inquest. Now.

I also have one guarantee for the place that does body counts in this province.

There will be more. I know.

Because Derek Twomey is No. 84.



Horrible numbers

Following is a summary of the 83 accidental (67) and undetermined (16) drug and alcohol overdose deaths of Manitobans, ages 15 to 30, from 2006 to 2010.


Death by drug types

Combination 32

Prescription alone 31

Illicit 10 Alcohol 10

By gender

Males 52 Females 31


By age

12-17 7

18-21 22

22-26 31

27-30 23 By year

2006 14 2007 15 2008 11

2009 24

2010 19

By Winnipeg neighbourhoods

Kildonans/W. St.Paul 14

Downtown 10 Windsor Park/St. Vital/ St.Boniface/Fort Garry 10 West End 9

North End 7

St. James/Chswd./RH 6

Elmwood/Transcona 4

By region

Winnipeg 60

Rural 23

-- source: Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

Read more by Gordon Sinclair Jr..


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