Tina Olivero had just seen her son return from the brink of the abyss.
But hours after he left the hospital, revived with naloxone and treated for a suspected opioid overdose, he found police crouching over him, struggling in vain to save his life once more.
Ben Olivero, a six foot six “gentle giant” as his mother puts it, died in the early hours of Saturday morning, behind some bushes in a small park on New Gower Street in St. John’s.
“He died alone,” Olivero said, losing his fight against tears in an interview Wednesday, just steps from where his son took his last breath.
“I can’t believe he left this world alone.”
Ben is one of at least 11 people who have succumbed to a drug overdose in the past month in Newfoundland and Labrador. Harm reduction advocates say at least some of the recent deaths are likely from fentanyl-contaminating drugs like cocaine.
Olivero, now telling his story in hopes of saving others, believes that this is why Ben died.
“All I could think was that I had to stop this. What would Ben want me to do? He would want me to stop this,” she said.
For six years, she says, she had done everything she could to get Ben’s treatment. But after each stretch of sobriety, she’d fall back into old patterns, unable to resist the attraction. First pot. Then pills. Then needles.
“It was a freight train coming,” Olivero recalls.
“His brain was hijacked… It wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t able to make a decision. Just like a dementia patient isn’t capable. They’re different illnesses, but they have the same outcome.”
Olivero’s warning comes just days after the Royal Newfoundland Police warned that fentanyl was in the province to stay and could be seen in greater quantities. Harm reduction workers told Breaking: last week that they are hearing reports about the synthetic opioid from frontline workers. Meanwhile, the Department of Health said Monday it had delivered hundreds of naloxone kits and ordered hundreds more as a safe measure.
For Olivero, that is not enough.
She hopes to see legislative changes to privacy laws that could give family members more control over their loved ones’ treatment. She would like it to be called Ben’s Law, something like the Mental Health Law, which could prevent people with addictions from harming themselves.
Ben’s death opened her eyes, she adds, to a bleak underworld of suffering. She says she received 600 messages from parents struggling with the same anguish, watching her children deal with addiction, unable to find a solution that would stick.
“This is much bigger than COVID-19,” he said.
“We closed the entire country due to COVID-19. And this is a drug epidemic that everyone is walking away from.”
As Olivero talks, a young couple approaches Ben’s memorial. A series of candles, photos and flowers are scattered on the park bench where Ben used to sit. They hug his mother and begin to cry. They knew him too, as gentle and generous, they said.
“It is a human right not to be thrown out on the street and judged as an addict,” Olivero said.
“And that’s what we need to fight for, the same way we’ve started to fight for mental illness.”
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