Christine Padaric has lived through a pain no parent would ever expect.
On April 12, 2013, her 17-year-old son Austin died of an overdose. He was at the house of a local drug dealer playing video games when someone encouraged him to snort morphine tablets. He started to show signs of an overdose, but no one called paramedics and he died.
Less than 10 years after Austin’s death, Padaric’s other son Kurt died from an overdose on Jan. 3, 2022. He was 29.
“Kurt carried so much guilt for Austin’s passing. Like, he really felt that being the older brother that he somehow introduced Austin to drugs, to smoking weed,” Padaric said in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo to mark International Overdose Awareness Day on Thursday.
“There was a three-year age difference between the two, but they were together all the time. They did everything together and their friends, they were intermingled. Kurt, I don’t think, knew how to survive without Austin.”
‘He turned into the naloxone guy’
The circumstances to Kurt’s death were different, Padaric says. Kurt had social anxiety as a teen and she and her husband, Klaus, noticed Kurt withdrawing. He experimented with drugs, but he also sought help, including counselling and going to rehab.
In the last years of his life, he was a peer worker at the consumption and treatment site in downtown Kitchener.
“He loved working with people. He had such empathy for others and he turned into the naloxone guy,” she said.
“He had dozens of kits in his apartment. He would get phone calls in the middle of the night from people saying that someone was overdosing and he would take a cab there.”
Still, Padaric says, they were worried about Kurt.
“You try to find all the help you can get for your kids, you do everything you can, but you never feel it’s enough,” she said, noting she and her husband were constantly worried about Kurt relapsing and using drugs again.
Mother and son would have a 10 a.m. check-in from work every day and she’d go home at lunch if she hadn’t heard from Kurt. When they went away, friends stopped in to see Kurt regularly.
“He hated himself as an addict, as a substance user, it really, really, really ate away at him and his self esteem,” she said.
‘It can happen to anybody’
Overdose Awareness Day, also called Drug Poisoning Awareness Day, will be marked with local events. The day is meant to remember those who have died from an overdose and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.
Padaric says it’s also a day to recognize there are people suffering in silence.
She says it’s also a day to speak out and end the stigma around drug use. After the death of Austin, Padaric started to go into Elmira District Secondary School to talk to students about what to do in the case of an overdose.
“I figured if it can happen to my family, it can happen to anybody,” she said.
“I just really felt that kids … they need a plan, they need to know what to do before a circumstance happens or while they’re under the influence or something.”
That’s a sentiment Rita Isley agrees with. She’s president of Wyndham House in Guelph and she says it’s so important to talk to young people about drugs, addictions and overdoses because those conversations can have big impacts.
She said the big message for the awareness day is for people to know there is help out there and there are “many doors” people can go to in the community for support.
“Youth are an interesting but also important population to really keep in mind because their trajectory can change so easily with the right implementation of supports,” she said.
“This is a population that for all intents and purposes on the surface looks like they’re going down a really bad path, but with minimal interventions and the right supports, we can change that path and really change the direction.”
Time to act
This year’s theme in Kitchener for Overdose Awareness Day is: Time to remember, time to act.
The event at Victoria Park runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday and will include the community van operated by Sanguen, guest speakers, naloxone training, community partners, some refreshments and a moment of silence.
In Guelph, there will be a rally at city hall at 11:30 a.m. followed by speakers, a minute of silence and a die-in at St. George’s Square in the downtown core at noon.
Padaric says she will be remembering her boys and she hopes sharing their story will help others understand that it can happen to anyone.
“It’s about knowledge. It’s really about educating yourself so that you can communicate the right messages and you know how to find the help, because really you have to be your own advocate as a parent, as a friend, as a partner, you have to fight for the people that you love, to find the help for them, but in the end it’s really up to them to make the decision to get help,” she said.
“It’s so hard to say. But for all that [Kurt’s] suffered, I can only hope that that suffering is over and that he’s happy and he’s with his little brother.”
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