Having hope: Life after a daughter’s addiction

By: Nicholas Galipeau
“When I found Jacquilynne she was in the hospital, had nothing but a skinny jacket on and cut off blue jeans and a tattered pair of running shoes that weren’t even hers,” says her mother, Donna D. May. Jacquilynne Gray, or Jacey as her mother lovingly refers to her, had been struggling with drug addiction for years before she found herself in British Colombia’s Surrey Memorial Hospital with plural septic pneumonia, hepatitis C and a number of other medical complications.

Jacquilynne Gray. Photo provided by Donna D. May

By: NICHOLAS GALIPEAU

Jacquilynne Gray. Photo provided by Donna D. May

Jacquilynne Gray. Photo provided by Donna D. May

“When I found Jacquilynne she was in the hospital, had nothing but a skinny jacket on and cut off blue jeans and a tattered pair of running shoes that weren’t even hers,” says her mother, Donna D. May. Jacquilynne Gray, or Jacey as her mother lovingly refers to her, had been struggling with drug addiction for years before she found herself in British Colombia’s Surrey Memorial Hospital with plural septic pneumonia, hepatitis C and a number of other medical complications.

During the early years of Gray’s addiction, May was nowhere to be found. She took the tough love approach to dealing with her daughter’s drug habit, which began after Gray had fallen down a flight of stairs. Doctors gave Gray OxyContin to help her cope with the pain of her injuries, but Gray soon realized that the numbing effects of OxyContin soothed her personality disorder. Then, the situation became serious.

“The voices in her head didn’t speak up as loudly when she was on OxyContin,” May says.

Gray continuously refilled her prescription for OxyContin until her doctors realized she was abusing the medication, and then cut her off completely. In a fit of desperation Gray began taking other people’s prescription painkillers. When those became scarce, she turned to the streets for her next fix.

On the streets, Gray found refuge in Fentanyl patches, an extremely addictive drug that is normally only prescribed to late stage cancer patients. One patch is designed to keep a patient in a constant state of pain relief for a matter of days. However, after melting the patch and extracting the opiates, the contents of the patch can be injected into the blood stream all at once, delivering the powerful numbing euphoria Gray had been craving.

Gray overdosed in her home town of Sault Ste. Marie twice, and on both occasions she was found alone on the snow covered streets where her friends had left her. They had taken her outside after realizing she was in the midst of an overdose, fearing that first responders would show up and start asking questions.

Sometime later, after being beaten severely, Gray used a substantial amount of stolen drugs and fled from her assailants to B.C., where her mother found her lying in a hospital bed.

Once doctors released Gray from Surrey Memorial Hospital, May admitted her to a treatment center. Within a matter of days Gray had gone back to injecting in the streets where she contracted necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as flesh eating disease.

“When things got really, really bad and we knew she was going to die, I think that that’s when I first realized how little is out there to help addiction and addicts,” May said. “I would rather see my daughter in a safe injection site injecting than doing it out on the street in front of children.”

May says her entire outlook on addiction and drug abuse changed after sitting down and talking to her daughter. “It wasn’t until she explained to me where I could have helped and didn’t that it really hit home with me.”

“I was fortunate. I had six months to learn and to live with Jacquilynne before she died,” May said. “A lot of people look at me as being a very poor mother and to be really honest I was, until the last six months of her life.”

After Gray’s death, the causes of which are still unknown to her doctors, May dedicated her life to speaking on behalf of addicts across Canada and encourages people in similar situations to, “have hope.”

“When I decided to change my mind and open my heart, the only thing I could do was hope that I could do enough in time,” May said. “And that’s all I ever hang onto now. I hope it was enough. I hope I did enough to let her feel loved, because she wasn’t getting it anywhere else.”

Now a founder of her own pro-harm reduction organization known as Jac’s Voice, May is trying to spread that love. She made a speech in Ottawa last September at an event celebrating the second anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in favour of Vancouver’s Insite program, North America’s only sanctioned supervised injection site. May is an active advocate for the creation of injection sites across Canada, and continues her work to this day.

“There is another side to this story, and one that needs to be addressed and heard,” May said. “The one thing Jacey asked me to do was to not let her life be a waste.”

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