The second in a two-part series on South Surrey families losing a loved one to fentanyl:
“I can’t go in,” Cathy Clements says in response to a request to see inside her son’s bedroom.
The reaction to the question – posed as a means to glean further insight into the 25-year-old’s life and personality – isn’t due to the state of Brodie’s room, which has, because of unfortunate timing, become too cluttered with another family members’ belongings to afford the space his mom needs to manoeuvre her wheelchair.
Quite simply, it’s too painful.
Just 5½ weeks earlier, after stepping out in the afternoon and returning to have dinner with his dad, Brodie had retired to his room to play video games on his computer. The following morning, his dad found him unresponsive on the floor, the result of an overdose that occurred sometime after 1:30 a.m.
So, Cathy opens the door to a visitor, apologizes for the mess, and redirects her wheelchair toward the kitchen.
Brodie Clements’ death was one of 80 overdose fatalities reported in Surrey between Jan. 1 and April 30, according to statistics released by the BC Coroners’ Service.
His mom Cathy agreed to share his story in the hope it will shed some light on the crisis and help stem the devastating tide. The month before his own death, Brodie had attended a celebration of life for another South Surrey overdose victim, Cheyenne Sekura, whose story was told in Wednesday’s Peace Arch News.
For both families, the goal of going public is to raise awareness of the issue and the fact that fentanyl, 50 times more toxic than heroin and found laced in alarming frequency in drugs including cocaine and heroin, is killing people in every community and along a wide socio-economic spectrum – not just those on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or on the so-called Whalley Strip in North Surrey, and not just those who had a difficult childhood or suffered other trauma.
“It’s just to reiterate that this is happening to everyone,” Cathy said.
“Not that there’s good kids and bad kids – they’re all good.
“They’re all good kids at some point.”
Brodie, she said, “was kind, he was beautiful… handsome.”
Cathy said her son – who was just a year younger than Cheyenne – was aware of the dangers of illicit-substance use.
He knew “so much,” she said. “He knew (fentanyl) was around. He’s had three acquaintances die from it in the last year-and-a-half or something.”
He and Cheyenne weren’t close, but shared similarities beyond substance use, including graduating from Earl Marriott Secondary in South Surrey, a grade apart.
Like Cheyenne, Brodie had strong family support through his addiction journey.
Also like her, Brodie didn’t outright acknowledge he had a problem. In fact, his response to the suggestion was succinct: “No, Mom, I don’t have a problem.”
“I guess maybe he figured he could handle it. He seemed really good and happy, so I didn’t really suspect much.”
Cathy believes the path to her son’s overdose was triggered by August 2015 allegations of sexual assault. He and another man were both accused by a pair of teenage girls, she said, and Brodie spent time in jail prior to the matter going to trial, after breaching a curfew condition that had been imposed following the charges.
Cathy said her son was eventually acquitted – the judge found his accusers weren’t credible, she said – “but the pressure had really gotten to him.”
While he’d been keen on nutrition and fitness, “he quit going (to the gym) when these charges came up. Because it was all over the Internet,” she said.
“It was horrible. It ruined his life… our lives. People thought he was some sort of creep. He wasn’t.”
Last July, the day before trial, Brodie tried to commit suicide.
Brodie – who had two older sisters – was six-foot-four and “very, very smart,” said Cathy.
As a kid, he attended Peace Arch and White Rock elementaries. He liked Magic cards, playing chess and computers. He was good with money.
But if something was bothering him, he kept it to himself.
“He wouldn’t talk about stuff,” Cathy said. “I couldn’t get him to talk. It was very, very difficult.
“He was closed off, but he knew how much I loved him. I know he loved us.”
Brodie was also kind, assisting his mom with daily tasks that had become increasingly challenging as a result of her multiple sclerosis.
During the time he spent in jail for breaching his curfew condition, Brodie helped a fellow inmate get – and stay – on track; a kindness Cathy only learned about through a letter the inmate sent to his “little buddy” in disbelief, after hearing that Brodie had died.
“He was a kind soul… such a figure in our life,” Cathy said.
“At the service, everybody said how kind he was, and his smile could light up a room.”
Cathy believes Brodie started using drugs at about age 19. He told his mom it started at raves.
While Brodie hadn’t quite figured out his place in the world – where he belonged or what he wanted to do with his life – Cathy said there were signs that he was taking a positive turn.
The most recent was his acceptance to a progam that focuses on helping 15- to 30-year-olds who have barriers to finding work. For Brodie, those barriers included social anxiety, low confidence and past drug use, not to mention the criminal allegations.
He had good work ethic when employed, his mom said, but she knows he had struggled in recent years.
“Getting him to do anything has been difficult, ” Cathy said. “He’d say, ‘Mom, how can I work when I can’t get out of bed?’”
Brodie was registered to start with the Alex House job-assistance program on April 30, and “was looking forward to them helping him set some goals.”
“It was going to be the answer to our prayers,” Cathy said.
Brodie’s dad found him at 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 22. He was laying just a few feet away from a naloxone kit – the overdose-reversing product sold under the brand name Narcan for use in emergency situations.
The coroner told Brodie’s family that investigation showed he was still alive at 1:30 a.m., a fact determined through a review of his online chat messages that was conducted during the investigation into his death. The family was also told that Brodie – like Cheyenne two months before him – had cocaine and fentanyl in his system.
“I don’t know if he decided he’d do (drugs) once more before he got back into the swing…,” Cathy said.
His mother is confident Brodie didn’t know fentanyl was in the mix, and figures he’d bought the cocaine when he’d went out the afternoon prior. She believes he felt safe using it “because of who he bought it from.”
“It wasn’t intentional,” she said of his death.
B.C. recorded 124 fatal overdoses that month. Last year, nationwide, the epidemic claimed nearly 4,000 lives.
“We tried everything,” Cathy said, of efforts to help Brodie. “Can’t even say I regret it, (that) I could’ve done better.”
She doesn’t know if having a clinic like those located in North Surrey – offering individuals with opioid addictions improved access to medications such as Suboxone and methadone – closer to home would have helped. She knows Brodie was on Suboxone while in custody, but said he wouldn’t have travelled to Whalley for the treatment.
Fraser Health announced new “opioid agonist therapy” clinics for Burnaby, Maple Ridge, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission and Langley last August, to complement three in Surrey.
A similar clinic on the Peace Arch Hospital campus is anticipated to open by year-end.
George Passmore, manager of counselling and substance use services for Sources Community Resources, told Peace Arch News last month – just prior to an event aimed at “changing the conversation around addiction” and eliminating the stigma of addiction – that of overdose fatalities last year, none was of people on Suboxone.
“Zero deaths,” Passmore said.
Described as “less sedating” than other treatments, Suboxone works by blocking and satisfying opioid receptors.
Passmore said efforts to bring more doctors on-side with the quest for a local clinic included introducing one of his clients to a GP who was “on the fringe” in terms of support for such access.
Following the meeting, the doctor told Passmore “after hearing this young man, I’m in,” Passmore said.
“Sometimes, you just need a human face.”
Locally, more than 300 people on methodone or Suboxone must currently head to North Surrey for the treatment, a journey Passmore said brings them close to the “danger zone,” a reference to the notorious strip.
Other efforts underway include formation of a South Surrey/White Rock Overdose Community Action Team (CAT). The provincial government announced in February dedicated funding – up to $100,000 – to establish CATs in 18 communities, including Surrey, “hardest hit by the overdose crisis… to further enhance their response.”
Areas of focus for the CATs include increasing the availability of naloxone and “addressing the unsafe drug supply through expanded drug-checking services and increasing connections to addiction-treatment medications.”
With the same goal of changing the conversation around addiction, a campaign launched this spring with ads reminding that people who use drugs are also a sister, a co-worker, a friend, etc.
Cheyenne’s mom, Cindy Liefke, said she believes the latter won’t resonate with the public as intently as knowing just how many people have died.
“That’s kind of what needs to hit home,” Liefke said. “Bombard people with these numbers – this is how many people are dying every day out there.
“Unless you live it and it’s in your face, you turn a blind eye to it.”
Brodie’s mom hopes her family’s experience will help bring attention to the issue; help people realize the scope of it, and get conversations started – between their kids and each other.
“Really try to encourage your kids’ talking,” she said.
“I don’t know if he was hiding (his addiction). But he struggled with a lot of things.
“He had so much going for him, but he didn’t know it.”