“It keeps calling my name.”
Those were among Brandon Jansen’s last words to his mother Michelle at a Powell River rehab centre on March 6, 2016, just hours prior to his death from a fentanyl overdose.
Brandon’s life ended two days before his 21st birthday.
“He said to me at breakfast that morning, ‘I’m struggling. I can’t hold it,’” recalled Michelle about their visit on just his third day at the Sunshine Coast Health Centre, the 12th facility he had attended to try and rid himself of the addiction. “Since my son passed, the number of fatalities has escalated and I have parents and loved ones reaching out to me every week, sometimes a couple times a week, saying they’ve lost yet another one.
|Brandon Jansen during a happier moment in his life prior to his death from fentanyl.
“Most recently I had parent reach out to me saying they had lost their son in a treatment centre but you never hear about that.”
As Michelle puts it, “unfortunately or fortunately,” she has become an expert on what does and, sadly, what doesn’t work when it comes to addiction treatment — at least specifically in relation to fentanyl which also claimed the life of her younger son Nick’s 16-year-old girlfriend just months afterwards.
So that is why the Lower Mainland woman has decided to open her own treatment facility in Penticton called the Brandon Jansen Memorial Recovery Centre.
It’s what she hopes will be the first of many in Canada and the United States.
She chose Penticton for its “serene and tranquil” setting and small-town atmosphere in which patients will have the “peacefulness” to work on their recovery.
“I have learned what it takes to keep these people alive,” said Michelle. “I applaud the new government for allotting over $300 million and creating a new ministry to deal with mental health and addiction. That is a big step but still that sense of urgency is not there, people are still dying everyday.
“Come on, the numbers tell the story. These people just die and they are leaving all their families and friends and extended families in this wake of tragedy and grief. It’s crazy, it’s crazy. I can’t sit back any more so we’ll have beds and we’re going to do it properly, we’ll do it different.
“This is my commitment to Brandon. I don’t have the option of not doing anything, something has to happen and if it takes me starting to open up treatment centres I’ll do it.”
She added there were 21 recommendations from the coroners inquest into Brandon’s death however she said none have been implemented, something which she plans to talk to Judy Darcy, Mental Health and Addictions minister about when they meet soon. In November, a report released by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority stated the centre was in compliance with provincial regulations which is another of Michelle’s concerns.
|An aerial view of the new Brandon Jansen Memorial Treatment Centre on Juniper Drive in Penticton.
“Right now what most people don’t understand is that recovery centres are regulated under the health authority, it’s the same regulations that daycare centres and seniors homes are. There is nothing that is regulated in terms of the addiction treatment regime, it doesn’t exist,” said Michelle. “Had there been the proper regulations in place like the one I will have in Penticton, 1,000 per cent Brandon would still be alive.”
The first recommendation from the inquest to the health minister’s office was:
I. Develop specific substance use treatment facility regulations under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, including with respect to educational qualifications for persons working in such facilities.
Security at the smaller, 12-bed centre on Juniper Drive is high on Michelle’s list of priorities.
According to Michelle, who still has her son’s cell phone (something she will not allow patients to have at the new facility), Brandon was waiting outside on the centre grounds for the drug dealer that night. One of the cell phone texts from another patient early in the morning of March 7 read: “He (dealer) should be any second,” which Michelle believes indicated the transaction was arranged by that person.
Brandon did eventually go back to his room to wait, texting the other patient to have the dealer come to his room.
“They brought the drugs right to his door, he used them and he was found later after he died, his last text to the other patient said: ‘just met him,’” said Michelle who added she had a bad feeling the next morning when Brandon hadn’t called or texted her. “It felt like a lifetime (talking to a centre staff member) but it probably was just two minutes for him to spit out that Brandon had passed away and it just didn’t compute.
“I told the staff the day before he was struggling and I wanted eyes and ears on him because he was at such a high-risk of relapse and they assured me he wouldn’t be left alone but they put him in a bedroom alone.”
Another of the recommendations was to the CEO of Sunshine Coast Health Centre to: Review security procedures and training with all staff.
She said part of the problem was Brandon could not continue taking the drug suboxone, which had controlled his cravings for the last two months, because the onsite doctor had not been given the exemption to prescribe the drug, although he did have the required training.
|A photo of one of the rooms inside the new addictions treatment centre on Juniper Drive.
According to the coroner inquest, licensing to prescribe suboxone was a more onerous process than it is today and the opioid antidote naloxone was not available at Sunshine Coast Health Centre at the time of his death. It does have both available now.
“The intent of starting the first Brandon Jansen Memorial Centre is that we’re going to do it properly,” said Michelle. “We’re going to implement a new standard of care, we’re going to check off all the boxes that are required in order to keep people safe while they’re in recovery.
“That means no locked doors so if someone’s overdosing on the floor dying, you don’t have to break down the door.”
Addictions doctors working one-on-one with patients, and more importantly, follow up services afterwards will also be in place.
“So we don’t just shake their hands and say: ‘good luck to you’ and off they go,” said Michelle. “The reality of it is that things need to change from a treatment point of view.”
She added experience has taught her that relapse is part of addiction recovery and while many centres kick people out it if happens, that will not be the case in Penticton, instead more resources will be provided.
“Brandon was a good looking boy, six-foot two, blonde and he just had a zest for life,” recalled his mom. “He was very caring, he loved animals, he always had a twinkle in his eye and he always went out of his way to help people. He didn’t plan to be addicted. He didn’t want to be addicted and we will do our best at the Penticton centre to make sure other families will not have to go through what we have.”
Requests for interviews to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and the Sunshine Coast Health Centre were not returned. The open house for the Penticton centre is Dec. 15.