The death of a man at Parksville’s Orca Place has left his mother worried about dangerous and toxic drugs in the area.
Julia Mewhort, mother of Stephen Nutt, 33, said her son was found dead in his room by the building’s staff on Dec. 18. Nutt, whose mother said was living with schizoaffective disorder, had been in his supportive housing residence since it first opened in August of 2019.
Mewhort said her son wanted to go into treatment again, having been previously admitted to the Comox Valley Recovery Centre. She said he’d spoken with his mental health worker about treatment just weeks before his death.
“He was set to go to treatment at Cowichan Lodge. But the long waiting list… the system has such a long waiting list.”
She saw her son a few days before he died, to pick him up, give him his Christmas present and have lunch at the beach.
“The last thing we said was that we loved each other,” she said.
Mewhort learned of her son’s death through her ex-husband, who received a call from one of her son’s friends.
When Mewhort went to collect Nutt’s belongings on Dec. 21, three days after his death, she said she saw a spoon with white powder, a pipe and tinfoil on the table.
She said when she asked the police why other rooms weren’t searched, she was told they could not, due to privacy laws.
Cpl. Jesse Foreman of the Oceanside RCMP confirmed in an email to PQB News that police did attend a sudden death at 222 Corfield St. (Orca Place) on Dec. 18. He said the death was not considered suspicious since the deceased was alone in his room at the time of his death. Because of this, he said, the coroner took over the investigation and that the RCMP are no longer investigating.
Mewhort said the coroner confirmed her son died from a toxic level of fentanyl laced with methamphetamine and heroin, and that he suffered respiratory distress. She believes it was the deadly fentanyl that killed him.
Mewhort considers her son’s death a poisoning and not an overdose since she saw him as a user seeking treatment due to his mental health disorder.
“I’m just really concerned that someone else is going to die.”
Violet Hayes, the executive director of the Island Crisis Care Society (ICCS), the organization which operates Orca Place, could not speak directly about any past or current residents, as ICCS is bound by privacy laws. She did confirm that the death on Dec. 18 was the first at Orca Place.
Hayes said the building upholds healthy lifestyles for residents and tries to get help to anyone who might be using. She also said a mental health and substance use team from Island Health comes by Orca Place regularly.
“The death was very, very difficult for all of us, especially the staff and the residents that have been with him for a very long time. They’re (residents and staff) supporting one another and trying to do the best they can,” said Hayes.
Nutt’s mother said she wants to see “the government do something right” and wants wait lists shortened for those that actively seek treatment.