Dayton Wilson, 24, poses for a picture in Kamloops. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett)

How many drug users who OD’d have brain damage?

Doctors say Canada needs data

Dayton Wilson’s drug-taking routine ended when he overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, but being able to walk and talk normally are also part of his past as he struggles with brain damage from a drug linked to thousands of deaths.

Wilson, 24, used illicit drugs for the last time in August 2016 on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, according to his mother, but he doesn’t remember anything about the day he was taken to hospital.

READ MORE: Opioid crisis may be shortening British Columbians’ life expectancy, report says

It was the first of two facilities where he would spend three months learning to take a few steps and utter some words.

The latest figures available from the Public Health Agency of Canada say more than 9,000 people fatally overdosed across the country between January 2016 and June 2018. British Columbia’s coroners service recorded nearly a third of those deaths.

But there are no comprehensive statistics for people who have survived the brain-damaging effects of opioids. Doctors say that information is imperative to understand the magnitude of the “forgotten” victims of the opioid crisis and to provide them with care and resources so they can become as functional as possible.

More than two years after speech, physical and occupational therapy, Wilson speaks haltingly and is difficult to understand. He paused before responding to a question about what he might recall after he was transported to St. Paul’s Hospital in an ambulance.

“I don’t remember this, but I wasn’t breathing for about five minutes,” he said of the length of time his brain is believed to have been deprived of oxygen.

While talking can be frustrating, what he laments most is not being able to rap, one of his passions.

“Balance is kind of hard for me now,” he said, adding he sometimes falls backwards and has hit his head.

Wilson said he started experimenting with drugs at age 15 before becoming addicted to heroin two years later. The brain damage he experienced at age 21 has helped him understand the power and life-changing effects of his addiction.

“I really like the person it’s made me,” he said of his ordeal. “I just don’t like what it’s done to me.”

His mother, Valerie Wilson, said she and her ex-husband had refused to let their son live with them as he continued overdosing at their homes even after treatment as they worried about the effects of his addiction on their other children.

Wilson said there’s little awareness about the consequences of brain injury on those who have survived the opioid crisis.

“One thing I hear a lot is, ‘At least you still have him.’ A lot of the times, I’m like, ‘Well, actually, no, I don’t. I have a version of him.’”

Wilson’s family has tried to find community programs and support groups for him but the only services available are for people dealing with unrelated issues, including stroke affecting older adults, his mother said.

Dr. Adam Peets, a physician in the intensive care unit at St. Paul’s Hospital, where Wilson was initially treated, said brain cells can be affected in as little as 30 seconds after someone overdoses and the level of damage can vary from mild to severe.

An estimated 25 to 33 per cent of patients are admitted to ICU because of complications from increasingly stronger drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil but there is currently no way to adequately collect that information, Peets said.

Electronic health records include a patient’s diagnosis at admission, he said.

But some of those people may be diagnosed with shock or something vague in an emergency room and a brain injury would be determined later through later lab tests, which he said are recorded on a separate system.

“It’s embarrassing, quite frankly,” Peets said of the lack of data on overdose-induced brain injuries, which he would like to see tracked nationally. “It’s something that the whole health-care system needs to do a better job on.”

Without data, it’s impossible to gauge the resources being used in hospitals or how resources in the community could best be utilized, Peets said.

St. Paul’s will be among hospitals in the Vancouver area to roll out a new electronic health records management system in 2019 to better collect data but it won’t be streamlined across the province, where multiple systems are being used, he said.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Can protected bike lanes get more kids cycling to school in Abbotsford?

Planners hope safer bike facilities can encourage pint-sized commuters to hit the road on two wheels

Man pepper-sprayed and arrested near railroad tracks in Abbotsford

Police and fire crews called to incident at Marshall and Riverside

MEI three-peats as Spartan Cup champions

Senior boys finish first, junior boys place second at Langley event

UPDATE: Highway now open after several hour closure at Herrling Island

Westbound traffic is stopped, and some cars have been seen driving the wrong way on the highway

Rainbow crosswalk plan gets council support in Hope

Council writing letter of support to community group for crosswalk project

‘I shouldn’t have done it,’ Trudeau says of brownface photo

Trudeau says he also wore makeup while performing a version of a Harry Belafonte song

35 of 87 dogs in 2018 Williams Lake seizure were euthanized due to behavioural issues, BCSPCA confirm

The dogs did not respond to the behaviour modification and remained terrified of humans

‘We still did not get answers’: Vancouver parents demand expulsion after students’ racist video

‘We were unable to get confirmation from the VSB, but he hasn’t returned as of yet,’ says Marie Tate

B.C. ‘tent city’ disputes spark call for local government autonomy

UBCM backs Maple Ridge after province overrules city

B.C. drug dealers arrested after traffic stop near Banff turns into helicopter pursuit

Antonio Nolasco-Padia, 23, and Dina Anthony, 55, both well-known to Chilliwack law enforcement

‘What goes up will come down’: Gas prices spike in Metro Vancouver

Petroleum analyst Dan McTeague says prices will fall Thursday

B.C. MLA calls on province to restrict vaping as first related illness appears in Canada

Todd Stone, Liberal MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson, introduced an anti-vaping bill in April

Most Read