4 years after son's death, a Vancouver mother marks overdose awareness day

·4 min read
Sharene Shuster holds a photo of her son, Jordan Carhoun, who was killed by a toxic drug overdose in August, 2018 at the age of 25. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)
Sharene Shuster holds a photo of her son, Jordan Carhoun, who was killed by a toxic drug overdose in August, 2018 at the age of 25. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)

Sharene Shuster wears a golden, heart-shaped locket around her neck with a finger print engraved on it. Inside are some of the ashes of her oldest son, Jordan Hunter Carhoun, who died in 2018 at the age of 25, after smoking what he thought was heroin but turned out to be fentanyl.

Shortly after Jordan died, Shuster learned about international overdose awareness day. She brought a picture of him to an event in downtown Vancouver where she was introduced to Moms Stop the Harm, a network of mothers and families who have been directly affected by the toxic drug crisis.

On Wednesday, a few weeks after the fourth anniversary of Jordan's death, she's marking overdose awareness day with that same group of mothers who are equally committed to ending the drug crisis.

"This has been going on since 2016 and it's just heartbreaking,"  Shuster said in an interview with CBC.

"We need a safe supply. We need to stop this,"

'Jordan was different'

Jordan Carhoun was born deaf and received a cochlear implant when he was two years old. He quickly learned to sign, read lips and eventually speak while he was growing up.

Shuster says he was an honour roll student who learned French and Japanese in school. He was popular, outgoing and happy; he loved animals and sports.

But toward the end of high school, his mother says things got difficult for him.

"Jordan was different," she said. "When the girls came in, he got teased and that's when the depression started."

Rafferty Baker/CBC
Rafferty Baker/CBC

Shuster says a friend introduced Jordan to heroin and he quickly became addicted. But it wasn't until months later, when his girlfriend Jasmine caught him smoking the drug, that the family found out.

Shuster says he was "so embarrassed" and told his family he wanted help to get off the drug.

She remembers calling rehabilitation centres and being told the wait list was four to five months long. The family was lucky enough to know someone working at Together We Can, an addiction treatment centre, and Jordan was quickly admitted through their connections.

"He was on a road to recovery. He had gone to rehab, he was doing amazing," Shuster said. Then Jordan learned that two of his friends that he'd met at rehab had died — and he relapsed.

"He went out and what he thought he was purchasing was heroin," she said.

Jordan's autopsy report showed he had ingested 100 per cent pure fentanyl.

"He didn't have a chance."

Breaking the stigma

Shuster points to Jordan as an example of the toxic drug crisis being pervasive across British Columbia and not confined to Vancouver's Downtown East Side.

The family lived in Vancouver's west side and Jordan attended private school through to Grade 12.

So many of the people who are dying are teenagers and young adults, struggling with mental health problems and using on their own, Shuster said.

The day he died, Jordan was found by his girlfriend, slumped over the bathtub in the basement apartment the two shared at his parents' house.

She believes he, and countless other young people who have died since 2016, used drugs as a coping mechanism.

"They're not there to get high and to party," said Shuster. "They're self medicating to ease the pain and escape."

On Wednesday, Shuster and other mothers, fathers, family members and friends will be wearing purple and gathering to honour the loved ones they've lost.

B.C. Place, Rogers Stadium Science World, Burrard Street Bridge, City Hall and other locations around the city will shine purple lights as part of overdose awareness day.

"And also all along Robson Street there's ribbons tied all over the place with our kids names," she said.

On the ribbon for Jordan, Shuster will provide details about her son: "Telling people: He was 25. He was an electrician. He had a live-in partner. He had siblings, friends, family."

Across Metro Vancouver there will be several events offering training in first aid and handing out naloxone kits — a drug used to temporarily counteract opioids. There will be rallies calling for safe supply, organizations handing out testing kits and tested drugs as well as candlelight vigils remembering those who have died.

"Our goal is just to raise awareness, stop the stigma and save lives," said Shuster.

"Every minute, every hour, I think of my son."

Rafferty Baker/CBC
Rafferty Baker/CBC