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The opioid crisis: One mom's story

'It’s not a matter of willpower; it’s a matter of life and death.'

Former Squamish resident Sacha Molby's son Tyrell Molby died from a lethal dose of fentanyl on Feb. 6, 2019.

He was two months shy of his 24th birthday and had just come out of a successful stay in a youth recovery program where he had been off drugs for four months.

Molby says it is important to note that "addiction is almost always rooted in mental health or trauma in some way."

"In Ty’s case, he was literally born with anxiety; he was a child who struggled with it from day one," she said, noting he was a sensitive and thoughtful person who was well-liked by his peers.

He was a straight-A student but struggled with being in the school system and turned to drugs to cope with his feelings of anxiety. Eventually, he dropped out at the end of Grade 10.

"I guess that’s when he started smoking pot in high school, and then it escalated into different drugs," Molby said.

That spiralled into years of addiction that included heroin, meth and eventually fentanyl.

 The addiction took a toll on the whole family.

 "I had Naloxone kits in every drawer in the house," recalled Molby.

She stressed that, like many parents who find themselves in this situation, Ty had a "great childhood, super supportive grandparents, cousins,  aunts, uncles, friends, you know —  he was very loved," she said.

“Ty was an amazing person; wise, smart and charming too, but he was plagued with intense emotions that led him to self-medicate,”  Molby said. “He had no more control over his situation than anyone suffering from any other kind of illness.”

It was bigger than him and all who loved him.

“The way he explained it to me was that his emotions were more amplified than most people, and he wanted to numb these acute feelings of anxiety,” Molby said.

The family’s story also shows how people are dying from the stigma and shame that society puts on those who struggle with substance abuse.

“If you say your child has cancer or some other life-threatening disease, there is sympathy, but when you are fighting to save your child from addiction,  you are nervous to speak of it for fear of judgment or that you will have to defend your child in some way because people assume this was their choice — which is ridiculous.  Addiction is a disease, and those battling it deserve compassion, just like anyone else suffering with an illness.”

Molby speaks out publicly and runs a support group in her new community of Prince George to try and combat some of that stigma, she said.

Ty was in and out of treatment programs over the years.

It was a roller coaster for his parents, trying everything they could to get him to see how the addiction was bringing chaos to his life and the family home.

They even tried tough love, telling him he couldn't come home unless he got help.

Luckily, after a few days, he came home and agreed to get help, but it was hard on them all, she said.

"It was just so awful," she said, adding, “It goes against every motherhood instinct —  to tell your child they can't come home.” Even though Ty agreed to get help, it was three weeks until he could get in, a painful and frightening wait for them all.

The recovery centre Ty stayed at in Keremeos made a big impact, his mom recalled.

While he was nervous at first, when he was able to call his parents, they felt like they had their son back.

"I'm doing really good," he said.

He started working out, gained weight — went from about  140 pounds to 190 pounds of muscle by the time he came out of the recovery program,” she said. “And he was feeling very positive.”

When he was allowed time out of the centre to celebrate Christmas with family, “everyone marvelled at how healthy he was,” she said.

Ty chose to stay on at the treatment centre longer than he was originally scheduled to but eventually said he was concerned his sobriety was being maintained in a "bubble" and wanted to live a normal life.

His parents helped set him up in a new place in Kelowna, near relatives and with roommates who did not know that he had just come out of a recovery program.

Ty said he didn't want his roommates to know about his substance use issues, Molby said.

The last time she saw him, he was excited about his new life, had a gym membership, was finishing school online, and had concrete plans for his future.

“[Ty] was so excited," she recalled.

When he missed a planned phone call to his mom, she got worried. He didn't miss calls.

She eventually called one of his roommates and asked her to go check on him. His roommate found him deceased in his bedroom. He had died of an accidental overdose.

“He had a moment of weakness, and he was gone,” his mom said.

Molby said that if it weren't for the shame and stigma of addiction, Ty may have told his roommates what he was going through.

He was likely afraid of letting everyone down, she said.

She stresses that recovery programs are not enough.

There needs to be a lot of support within the communities.

"People don't just suddenly recover after a few months; addiction is a lifelong battle," she said, adding that those who are struggling need to know it is OK to reach out for help at any time if they are feeling vulnerable. Molby states, “It’s not a matter of willpower; it’s a matter of life and death.”

This article is part of an in-depth, provincewide journalistic effort by Glacier Media to examine the scope, costs and toll of the opioid and toxic drug crisis in British Columbia – a public health emergency that has taken at least 11,807 lives since 2016. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911. If you need help with substance abuse, call the B.C. government's alcohol and drug information and referral service at 1-800-663-1441. It's available 24 hours a day.