–by Britt Santowski [SPN], all photos from Doug Brown; pictured is his deceased son, Talon Darion Brown.
This article is being re-published at the request of Doug Brown. In an update to SPN, Brown noted “I recently found out that four people-a-day in British Columbia die from fentanyl. Remind people that not only hard-core users die. They can be occasionally using, or maybe just using for their first time. Fentanyl does not care. And, it can be found in many drugs.”
Doug is right. See the infographic at the bottom of the article from statistics from September. Essentially, deaths are up almost 40% from last year, an average of 4.3 people die every single day, and 58% of the deaths occur in private residences. It’s not what you think. Doug’s message is this: His story could be yours in a heartbeat, hug your kid today.
This year marks Doug and Debra’s second Christmas without their son, Doug doesn’t even remember how they got through last year’s festivities. Here is his story.
The last time he saw his son alive, they were having an argument.
It was a typical fight, like all the others they’ve ever had before. Dad laid down the law that the son, now a young man of 21, thought he was above. It would end like they always do, thought Doug Brown. Talon would leave, blow off some steam, and they’d patch things up later. Like they always do.
It was a typical fight perhaps, but it would end unlike any other. The afternoon of May 31, 2017 would be the last time Doug would see his son alive. Doug didn’t know that yet.
In the early morning hours, Doug and his wife Debra were awakened by Talon’s dog, barking relentlessly at the front door. There, stood an officer in full uniform.
Your son has had a heart attack, they were informed. You need to come to the hospital, right away.
When they arrived, said Doug, Talon was unconscious but still “there.” Talon could still grip with his hand, Doug felt that. Debra saw a tear roll down her son’s cheek.
Hours later, mom and dad made a nightmarish decision. They unplugged their only son. They donated his organs. Eyes, heart and lungs all went to help someone else. Talon would have wanted that, said Doug.
Talon was gone.
There was alcohol in his system, said the doctors that day, and cocaine. It took five full months for the coroner’s toxicology report to come back. That’s when Doug and Debra found out that fentanyl was also present in their son’s body. As it was explained to them, the cocaine made Talon’s heart skip a beat, the fentanyl told the rest of his body to not bother starting up again. His brain would have been telling his body otherwise, but in those moments that all-too-soon-became-forever, fentanyl was the body’s boss.
It’s been over a year now that Talon died. Doug doesn’t cry every day anymore like he used to. Now, it’s sporadic and unexpected, creeping up on him like an unwelcome intruder.
There is a pervasive emptiness that now fills the life that he and Debra had built around—and for—their only son.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to feel the emptiness I feel,” says Doug.
Whether or not Talon knew the cocaine was laced with fentanyl is unknown. He was with two others at the time. Who they were is also unknown. When Talon lost consciousness outside of a Sooke business at 10:55 p.m. on May 31, 2017, the surveillance camera shows two people stepping past him, then driving on. They have never been identified. Only they know who they are. Had they stopped to call 9-1-1, Talon might still be with Debra and Doug today.
“There should always be someone around who knows how to use Naloxone,” says Doug. An injection of naloxone can kickstart the body when fentanyl shuts it down. When Talon’s unconscious body was found, first aid was administered and 9-1-1 was called, but ultimately it was too late. Talon died the following day in the hospital.
Born on June 13, 1995, Talon died on June 1, 2017, just days shy from his 22nd birthday. “Forever 21,” reads a post on Facebook from Doug, on one of the many heartsick posts.
Doug is sharing Talon’s story for a few reasons.
Doug wants people to know that this can happen to anyone, that no one chooses an accidental fentanyl overdose. A part of him deeply aches when he hears that callous comment, stating that fentanyl is around to “cull society’s undesirables,” somehow suggesting that those who die from it deserved it. Doug’s pain is palpable when he talks about this. Talon was a typical 21 year old young man. Rebellious. Curious. Indestructible. Invincible. He was incredibly artistic, though he probably wasn’t aware of how deeply talented he was. He loved to fish.
He made a mistake and paid the ultimate price. Death seems too steep a consequence. He didn’t deserve to die. Talon was on a career path towards becoming a drywaller, and was halfway there. He was hard working, reliable and trustworthy. Over 150 people showed up at his celebration of life, an impact that Talon probably didn’t realize he had.
No. His death was not a societal cull, not a win for anyone.
Doug wants people to know that fentanyl is readily available in Sooke. The cocaine that Talon purchased on that fateful night was bought in Sooke.
“It’s here,” says Doug, “someone in Sooke is selling it.”
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Doug wants people to know that the published statistics are probably on the low end. It took five months for the coroner’s toxicology report to come back to him. They have an incredible backlog, he says. The numbers can’t be accurate.
Doug wants people to know that an accidental overdose comes across as an event without a perpetrator. The word “overdose” puts the deceased in the spotlight, as though the deceased were somehow at fault. They are not, says Doug. Someone is intentionally cutting fentanyl into other drugs and killing people, he says. That’s manslaughter. When one drug is cut into another, and then split for consumption, it comes down to luck of the draw. Compare it to a single chocolate chip cookie, split in two parts to share. One portion may have more chocolate chips, the other less. So too when fentanyl is cut into cocaine or any other drug. It’s not portioned by a pharmacist, it’s hacked into –ish portions. Perhaps, Doug suggests, there should be greater consequences, like longer jail terms. The pushers are not just selling an illegal opioid, they are killing people. Manslaughter.
He doesn’t have definitive answers, though he is starting to think that legalization may be one way to curb the fatalities, to slow down the currently crisis. He is not of the belief that making something available makes it more open to abuse. Quite the opposite. The more illicit something is, the more tantalizing it becomes to the rebel. And most youth go through that rebellious phase. Fentanyl, while illegal, is also readily available. It can be ordered internationally over the Internet. Some orders may be apprehended at the border, but others get through. With the recent legalization of marijuana, fentanyl is less likely to be cut into pot products. There’s proper sourcing, regulation and monitoring. There’s a paper-trail, and accountability.
Doug wants people to know that an accidental fentanyl death can happen to anyone, and to anyone’s child.
Talon came to Debra and Doug as an unexpected gift. Childbearing was medically difficult for Debra due to endometriosis, and she was on birth control pills. Talon came anyway, making an unexpected entrance into their world, arriving full term—to their delight—with all ten fingers and all ten toes. He was their only child, and he gave Doug and Debra parental purpose. They built a life around their child.
Equally unexpected, Talon is now lost to them. In his stead is a big empty endless hole, no light, no end to the dark tunnel.
It’s been over a year. Doug still can’t bring himself to clean out Talon’s room. The truck they bought for Talon’s graduation still sits in the drive. Talon’s dog cannot understand why his owner never came home.
“Tell your children that you love them,” Doug says, “even when you are mad at them.”
No one “deserves” this. Talon was a great kid. Not perfect, but still great. And deeply, very deeply loved.
Doug wants people to know that.
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