On April 29, 2003 I got a call at home from my brother Dan. I remember everything about that moment. It was a beautiful spring day. There was a light breeze coming in through the patio door. “Are you listening to me, Mike?” he said. “Dad died this afternoon.”
Our father Mark was 59. The news was gut-wrenching but not surprising. My dad was absolutely wonderful. He told us he loved us all the time. He was free with hugs, kisses and regular “I love you’s,” something I did not always appreciate growing up but cherished as an adult. Not only did my dad not miss a single one of our hockey games, he almost never missed a practice.
He never went to college but was one of the smartest people I ever met. He was very sensitive, genuine and powerfully connected with vulnerable people, I think because he could relate to them very personally.
I do not know when my father was first prescribed OxyContin. Old football injuries and years of carrying extra weight had caused him to experience significant pain in his back and hips. I believe at first the medication helped, but we did not then understand OxyContin the way we do now. I did know my dad. Over time something was changing.
Dad decided he wanted to get off OxyContin. At times those of us closest to him had gently let him know we were concerned he did not seem to be himself. He would be a little defensive.
We had an Easter get-together April 20, 2003, nine days before he died. After two hours Dad still had not shown up. I was worried enough I drove 30 minutes to the house and went in, quite anxious, not sure what to expect. I shouted for him. I was relieved when he walked out groggily and said that he had just fallen asleep.
I believe Dad decided to try to get off OxyContin after that day and went back on it the night before he died. This withdrawal resulted in agonizing pain. He told my brother he thought he was going to die, something he told me multiple times. Months later I received the call. The cause of death was OxyContin.
I hope sharing those thoughts can help us find solutions so others do not face similar tragedies in their own lives. I wish OxyContin had not been prescribed. I wish Dad had access to better tools and guidance when he tried to get off of it. Most of all, while I understand stories are powerful, I wish I did not have this one to tell.
All the wishes in the world will not change the past and they will not change the current reality. It is way past time we took meaningful action to tackle the opioid crisis and other significant issues of mental health in this country.
(Editor’s note: the author is a six-term MP (Edmonton-Wetaskiwin). Mr. Lake made his remarks in a February 8 Commons debate on the opioid crisis)