Christine Padaric has experienced pain that no parent would ever expect.
On April 12, 2013, her 17-year-old son Austin died of an overdose. He was at the home of a local drug dealer playing video games when someone encouraged him to inhale morphine tablets. He began to show signs of an overdose, but no one called paramedics and he died.
Quin Kurtz, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2015, was sentenced to two years less than one day in jail and three years of probation.
Less than 10 years after Austin’s death, Padaric’s other son, Kurt, died of an overdose on January 3, 2022. He was 29 years old.
“Kurt felt very guilty about Austin’s passing. He really felt that, being the older brother, he somehow introduced Austin to drugs and smoking marijuana,” Padaric said in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo to commemorate the death. International Overdose Awareness Day. Thursday.
“There was a three-year age difference between the two of them, but they were together all the time. They did everything together and their friends were mixed up. I don’t think Kurt knew how to survive without Austin.”
‘He became the naloxone guy’
The circumstances of Kurt’s death were different, Padaric said. Kurt had social anxiety when she was a teenager and she and her husband, Klaus, noticed Kurt withdrawing. She experimented with drugs, but also sought help, including psychological counseling and rehab assistance.
In the last years of his life, he worked as a fellow at the Consumption and Treatment Center in downtown Kitchener.
“He loved working with people. He had such empathy for others and he became the naloxone guy,” he said of the opioid rescue drug.
“He had dozens of kits in his apartment. He would get phone calls in the middle of the night from people saying someone was overdosing and he would take a cab there.”
Still, Padaric said, they were worried about Kurt.
“You try to find all the help you can for your kids, you do everything you can, but it never feels like it’s enough,” she said, noting that she and her husband were constantly worried that Kurt would relapse and use drugs again.
Mother and son would have a 10 am check-in from work every day and she would go home by lunch if she hadn’t heard from Kurt. When they left, her friends came to see Kurt regularly.
“He hated himself as an addict, as a substance user, it really, really, really ate at him and his self-esteem,” he said.
“It can happen to anyone”
Overdose Awareness Day, also called Drug Intoxication Awareness Day, is celebrated with local events. The day is meant to remember those who died of an overdose and acknowledge the grief of family and friends left behind. Padaric said it is also a day to recognize that there are people who suffer in silence.
He said it’s also a day to speak out and end the stigma around drug use. After Austin’s death, Padaric began going to the Elmira District High School to talk to students about what to do in the event of an overdose.
“I thought if it could happen to my family, it could happen to anyone,” he said.
“I really felt like kids…need to have a plan, they need to know what to do before a circumstance occurs or while they’re under the influence or something like that.”
That’s a sentiment Rita Isley agrees with. The president of Wyndham House in Guelph said it’s important to talk to young people about drugs, addiction and overdoses because those conversations can have big impacts.
He said the big message for awareness day is to let people know that help is available and that there are “many doors” people can turn to for support.
“Young people are an interesting population but also an important one to consider because their trajectory can change very easily with the proper implementation of supports,” he said.
“This is a population that, for all intents and purposes, on the surface looks like it’s going down a really bad path, but with minimal interventions and the right support, we can turn that path around and really change direction.”
It is time to act
This year’s Kitchener theme for Overdose Awareness Day is: It’s time to remember, it’s time to act.
The event in Victoria Park will take place from 6 pm to 8 pm on Thursday and will include the community van operated by Sanguen, guest speakers, naloxone training, community partners, some light refreshments and a moment of silence.
In Guelph, there will be a rally at City Hall at 11:30 am followed by speakers, a minute of silence, and a death in St. George Square, downtown, at noon.
Padaric said he will remember his children and hopes that sharing his story will help others understand what can happen to anyone.
“It’s about knowledge. It’s really about educating yourself to be able to communicate the right messages and know how to find help, because you really have to be your own advocate as a parent, as a friend, as a partner, you have to fight for the people you you love, to find help for them, but in the end it’s really up to them to make the decision to seek help,” she said.
“It’s very hard to say. But despite all that [Kurt’s] suffered, I can only hope that this suffering ends and that he is happy and is with his little brother”.