Courageous, Curious, Great Big Heart.
With Harley gone, the world is missing a unique and special guy. Harley had great kindness and a humanitarian spirit. He was very concerned about the world and lived in a very ‘earth conscious’ way. Harley was vegan most of the time and very health aware. He loved animals, especially dogs! He had two that he really loved: a rottweiler and a pit bull! Harley is greatly missed by his family, including his pups.
His mom, Vicki, convinced Harley to go to the hospital as she could see he was not well. Like many people who use drugs, Harley was reluctant to seek help. Often there is sense of dread over how they may be viewed by others, including those in the medical system. The stigma of drug use is very pervasive. Harley had an experience that had impacted his views about accepting help. Once he had overdosed while in a car. He was resuscitated in part through the use of naloxone. When he came to, he realized that he was now shackled and in plain view of the public. This was a humiliating experience for him. As a user of drugs, Harley often felt others saw him in a negative light.
At the hospital Harley was found to be very dehydrated and very low vitals. He had not been able to keep any food or liquids down for about 7 days. He needed treatment badly. In the hospital he also tested positive for fentanyl as he had told his mom that he would not come into emergency unless he did a hit. In emerg Harley was scheduled for a scan to find out what was happening internally. He was supposed to get a scan the night he passed but the staff said he possibly got missed. They were not sure why. Harley went in the hospital on Sept 23rd around 8:00pm and passed on Sept 24th about 4:20 am
Later it was learned that the cause of death was the hiatus hernias in his chest area. This may have been from the fentanyl use. This only came to light after waiting 18 months for the coroner’s report. At the time, Harley’s death was a suspected overdose because he had fentanyl in his system.
Vicki also believe stigma had a big role to play in Harley’s death. She had to beg him to go to that hospital. Drug use brought on a lot of shame for Harley and so he avoided going anywhere that his drug use would be noticed.
Many people cross paths with drugs due to an injury where powerful opiates are prescribed for pain relief. This was the case for Harley. He had been in a serious car accident when he was younger. The pain, during and after he recovered from his injuries, was severe. As he became older, the pain increased. Doctors prescribed Oxycontin. Due to continuous pain, Harley continued to seek out opioids after his prescriptions had ended. He needed it for the pain and he found that he had become addicted. Harley’s situation is an alarmingly common story for many drug users. Some of those who suffer painful injuries are prescribed opioids. The vast majority of those who are given opioids find great relief from pain and can discontinue using these when the pain subsides. 10-20% of the population are vulnerable to becoming addicted. No one thinks they will become addicted and so are surprised and shocked when they discover they cannot discontinue using these. Sometimes they are able to stop using for periods of time but addiction is a disorder where relapses are common and to be expected.
Harley has always been very athletic and was into every sport. He loved the outdoors. Ongoing pain prevented him for participating in these as much as he wanted. This was a real blow to him.
Harley also had some mental health issues and suffered from depression which started after his accident. His mom believes this was due to a belief he had that he was not living up to the standards and labels men often put on themselves. He sought to hide this from everyone. He felt the stigma of being both a drug user and a person with mental health issues. This was not how he thought his life would go.
Vicki believes that if Harley had been able to access a safer supply of drugs that he would still be alive. The street supply that he could access was often toxic and there was no way of knowing how safe the drugs would be. Dealers will often tell their customers that they are selling the “good stuff.” People who use drugs often must continue take them to avoid becoming ‘dope sick’, due to withdrawll symptoms(severe nausea, vomiting diarrhea, chills, shivering, body aches). People will also experience severe cravings where the drug feels like a need, not a want. So those who use drugs purchase street drugs which frequently contain fentanyl in an unknown and unreliable concentration. Many systemic barriers prevent drug users from getting the help they need. Family members, desperate to help, tried to assist Harley in accessing a safer supply through the medical system but this was difficult and mostly unsuccessful.
Vicki, Harley’s mom related a heart-to-heart talk that she and Harley had about a year before his death. She, Harley, and the dogs were sitting together outside Harley’s condo. Harley told his mom that he really wanted to get better someday soon… so that he could look after her when she was old.
Vicki says that Harley has kept his word and is guiding her from the Sprit World. He often said, “ Remember mom, I got your back just like you had mine.”