Ola Bailey was a determined, and loving young lady who had many interests and talents. She came to Canada at the age of 3 and quickly adapted to her new life, parents, and language. She was always smiling and effervescent. Ola took up tap dancing when she was 4 and over the course of her dancing career, she did jazz, hop hop, and musical theatre. What she loved the most though was ‘girl hockey.’ The first piece of hockey equipment Ola acquired was a hockey helmet. She wore it for two days straight, and yes, she slept with it on. Ola also earned a black belt, first Dan in Sun Hang Do, she loved to ride horses and took weekly lessons for years. She was also a cadet beginning from the age of 12 and worked her way up to the rank of warrant officer. She played the sax and the bagpipes. Always an active gal, Ola was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 5 and shortly after that a language-based learning disability. She absolutely loved her elementary school years. She learned to play chess on the giant chess set and loved to help the teachers. Even when she went on to high school, she always liked to return to see her former teachers. She loved to travel and with her parents went to California, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, Mexico, Bermuda, Hawaii, England, France, and Guernsey in the Channel Islands. She had an unparalleled sense of direction and could always find her way no matter where she was, (which was very helpful when her mom lost the car in parking lots.).
Ola loved to play the goalie position in ice hockey and she continued to play through high school. She could play “out” but in goal she was often almost unbelievable at times. In tournaments she often won MVP for her skill at stopping pucks. Knowing that Ola had traumatic early years, her parents hoped that skills like hockey and riding would help to keep her safe and on a positive path. Ola had the trifecta of vulnerability to addiction: a neurodiverse brain, genetic email for addiction (both birth parents were drug users), and experimentation with drugs beginning in the mid teen years.
High school proved to be difficult for Ola on many levels. Struggling with ADHD and a language-based learning difficulty made it tough for her to navigate the social world of teens. She found it difficult to fit in and find a group to belong or hang out with. At 13, Ola began to experience new mental health difficulties. Although she was treated for this, it was a continuing struggle. Around the age of 15, Ola started experimenting with drugs after becoming involved with a peer group that was also experimenting. Later she was exploited by a much older man who was a heroin and meth addict. This is where her addiction began. Ola began staying away from home, often in very unsafe situations. Stunningly, there was no help or assistance possible to restrain the older man from connecting with her. Her parents and friends spent a lot of time looking for her to make sure she was alright and to try and convince her to come home. Ola found that heroin helped to soothe the pain of rejection, social difficulties, and the shame of becoming so involved in drugs. She told her mom that heroin helped with the “pain in her heart” which basically equated to the pain of living in a social world that frequently does not understand and often rejects those who are neurodiverse. Neurodiversity is the approach that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category on a par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status. Unfortunately, those who have some neurological differences are more vulnerable to being bullied, rejected, or exclude.
The stigma of being a drug user had a profound impact on Ola. She couldn’t believe that she had become addicted and she tried many, many times to stop using but couldn’t. Most often she did this on her own so as not to have to admit that she was addicted. She hid her drug use from close friends and families. As her drug use continued, she disconnected from all the activities she once loved preferring to hang out with “friends”, also drug users. Her judgment became increasingly impaired. Once she would have detested the way she was living but now she preferred it. Everyone in her circle of friend was using when they were together and no one was shaming them for their use of drugs.
In the last year of her life, Ola ended up in the hospital with a serious blood infection. The main source of infection was in one of her legs but they could not find it to drain it. She was put on intravenous drugs to combat the infection. After two weeks, Ola was allowed to go home with a home IV program. When she stood up to get dressed, one of her femurs broke. The femur is the strongest bone in the body but it turned out that the infection had basically disintegrated part of her femur. Ola stayed in the hospital for three more weeks and had surgery to insert external and internal rods in her leg. She was released with crutches and a cane. She continued on high dose medication to combat the infection. Before she was released a doctor from the Addictions Unit made a recommendation that she start Suboxone (Opioid agonist treatment) . This could be managed by her parents. Ola did well on the Suboxone program. Unfortunately, a community addiction doctor would not support the at home program. The doctor now required her to go to the pharmacy daily to do daily witnessed ingestion (DWI). Ola did not do well on this for two reasons, she was ashamed of having to take Suboxone at the pharmacy in public. Also she still had to use a cane when she walked and walking was still difficult. When Ola had to go to the pharmacy for DWI, she decided that she was OK without Suboxone; the cravings were gone.
Ola died just before Christmas. On the 22 of December in 2015, Ola told her folks that she was going shopping downtown. Her dad dropped her off and told her to be safe. She did not return that night and the next day she was reported missing. On the 24, two policemen walked up to the front door of their house to inform her parents that Ola was deceased. She was in found in a third floor stairwell. All of her Christmas shopping, her phone, her money and her ID had been stolen. There was been a naloxone kit available two floors down but the person she was using drugs with left her, either dead or in some kind of distress. He did not tell anyone that Ola was there and so she was not found until it was far too late to help her. She was 21 years old.
There needs to be many changes to the way addiction is viewed and dealt with. Ola’s legacy might be that her story was told on national news. This led to action by the federal government and methadone and suboxone were “delinked”. This meant that all physicians would now be able to prescribe Suboxone. Many specialists and doctors had been asking for this for some time. Ola’s story brought a face to the issue and highlighted one of the changes that should have been made a long time ago.
“Ola had no access to safe regulated supply but if this had been available, I have no doubt that she would have used this and she would have continued to work on freeing herself from addiction. I think having a regulated safe supply could have saved her life. One relapse can end your life,” said her mom Deb. She continued, “ If Ola had come and said that she was going on a regulated safe supply of heroin, I would not have been thrilled. I did not want this for her and I don’t believe she wanted this for herself. I would however be very relieved as she likely could have survived if she could have avoided poisoned street drugs. There would still be hope that she could get free from addiction and that if she had a relapse, she would not die. There would still be hope. Once your child is gone, there is no longer any hope.”
Because Ola is no longer on the planet, the world is missing an interesting, and loving person. She could be a great companion, always ready to give something a try or strike off on a new adventure.