Grieving father’s quest
It’s a painful story for him to tell.
It’s a story of senseless loss and sadness, but it’s a story Oakville resident Bill Robinson needs people to hear, so other parents may be spared the horrific experience of burying their child.
Robinson met with Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn and student representatives from numerous Oakville high schools Tuesday evening to best determine how he could go about spreading the story of his son James throughout the community.
“Six months ago yesterday, my youngest son James died of an overdose of Oxycontin. He was 24 years old,” said Robinson.
“I don’t know if you can really describe the horror and anguish of waking up in the morning and finding your son dead on the floor of his bedroom already cold, already stiff.”
Robinson described his son, who attended T.A. Blakelock High School, as an avid reader, who always had a book in his hand and was always using reading to increase his knowledge of the world.
After hearing a debate about Islam on the news, Robinson said, James went out and read the entire Qur’an, so he could see what was actually written.
Robinson said his son was a huge fan of the musical Les Miserables and was an accomplished debater, who trounced his father on more than one occasion.
The path, which would eventually lead to James’ death, began with a baseball game when James was 21 years old.
“He was the catcher and the batter was up there and swung and missed the ball and hit him right in the mouth with the baseball bat and broke all of his top teeth,” said Robinson.
“It took months and months before his dental plan was approved. He was in pain and I guess he started taking some painkillers that I had in my medicine cabinet left over from surgery that I had.”
When he finished these pills, Robinson said, someone introduced James to Oxycontin.
Oxycontin is an opiate designed for long-term pain relief.
Robinson said it is an effective drug when used properly. He said it eased his brother’s pain when he was dying from cancer.
Where Oxycontin becomes dangerous, he said, is when it is used illegally.
Oxycontin is becoming an increasingly popular street drug and is stolen from pharmacies, sold by people who have prescriptions for it and now even illegally manufactured to fuel its growing underground demand.
When snorted or injected, Oxycontin gives the user an intense feeling of euphoria, but this feeling is incredibly addictive. Robinson said it is possible to become addicted to Oxycontin after just a week of this type of use.
“What happens, after you start using it, is it takes more and more to get that same feeling and so you start taking a little more and then it takes even more. Then, as soon as you stop taking it or try to stop taking it, now all of a sudden you are addicted and you get withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms are nausea, body pains and various other things,” said Robinson.
“There’s an addict in this documentary I’ve got and he says, ‘Imagine to yourself the worst flu you’ve ever had in your life and multiply it by 10.’ That’s the way you feel when you come off it.”
By this time, the euphoria felt from taking Oxycontin is gone and it is now just being taken to escape the withdrawal symptoms.
Robinson said James was struggling with this kind of addiction and at times was going through these intense withdrawal symptoms, but Robinson didn’t know this.
For the longest time, James hid his addiction from his parents even enduring a colonoscopy at one point rather than admitting the illness he was experiencing was actually Oxycontin withdrawal symptoms.
It was only when creditors began calling because James had maxed out his credit cards and line of credit on drugs that his parents became aware there was a problem.
Robinson had given James $4,000 to help pay some of this debt only to have the bank call a few days later asking where the money was.
“I talked to James and I asked where the money was and he said he spent it. I said, ‘What do you mean you spent it, that was $4,000, what did you spend it on,’” said Robinson.
“He just looked at me and he said, ‘Dad, I’m a drug addict.’”
Soon after James began treatment for his addiction.
This treatment included taking methadone to wean him off the Oxycontin, but while the methadone eliminated his withdrawal symptoms and allowed him to work, it was not always easy to get.
To get his methadone, Robinson said, James had to drive to a methadone clinic in Hamilton.
There was one pharmacy in Oakville where James could fill his methadone prescription, but because he worked shift work he couldn’t always get to the store when he needed to.
“I was very, very upset several months ago when they were trying to put a methadone clinic on Kerr Street and the Kerr residents got together and said, ‘We don’t want these horrible, terrible drug addicts on our street,’” said Robinson.
“Well…those terrible, horrible drug addicts are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters and your mothers and fathers and they are just people and they need help. They really do need help.”
Without the methadone, James’ withdrawal symptoms returned and he eventually lost his job at a local food distribution centre because he had missed too many days of work.
A few months later, one of James’ friends invited him out to Fort McMurray stating he had an apartment James could stay at and said James could get a job out there working in Alberta’s thriving oil industry.
James agreed saying he was being harassed by local drug dealers, who were constantly tempting him to start using again.
Out west, Robinson said, his son succeeded in getting off methadone and had gotten to the point where he was no longer feeling withdrawal symptoms.
He had also gotten a job in the oil industry and was finally pulling his life together.
“He was happy, really happy and proud of himself,” said Robinson.
“He had a job. He was making good money. He was starting to pay off his debts and was feeling really good about himself. He was also getting back into sports.”
A few months later, James came home to visit his family for a long weekend. Robinson said one Friday night, James went out with some friends, watched a movie and had some drinks. His friends dropped him off at his parent’s home at around 11:30 p.m.
James went up to his old room and was apparently in the process of downloading a movie to his iPod for his plane ride home.
The next morning Robinson noticed his son had not come out of his room, but chalked this up to James being tired because of all the long shifts he had been working out west.
“At about 1 p.m., we said, ‘My God the dog is still in there with him. Let’s go let the dog out,’” said Robinson. “So we opened the door and there he was on the floor…dead.”
Robinson has learned a lot about Oxycontin since that day.
One thing he really wants people to know is that if you are addicted to Oxycontin and you stop taking it, your body develops a naivete to it.
This means the tolerance for high levels of the drug the person was taking as an addict disappears, making it very easy to overdose if they take the drug at the level they did before.
With the help of Flynn and the high school student representatives, Robinson is hoping to deliver James’ story to students and parents in such a way as to make them understand what is out there and the dangers of getting involved with a drug like Oxycontin.
“If I had known then, what I know now, I think I would have been able to talk to him. I think I would have been able to help him more and I certainly would have been able to make him understand the consequences of what he was doing,” said Robinson. “He didn’t do this on purpose. He didn’t knowingly take an overdose of a drug and die. He was just as naïve as we were.”
November 18, 2010
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