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Aaron Simkin, 32, poses for a photograph near his Queen Street East apartment on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)
Aaron Simkin, 32, poses for a photograph near his Queen Street East apartment on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)

Addiction

Oake's addiction story brings tales of 'hell' and hope into the spotlight Add to ...

“We went through a decade of hell,” says Mark Simkin, a retired teacher, from his home just outside of Kenora, Ont. “As a parent of a child who’s had serious addiction problems – starting with marijuana in high school, and as soon as he went away to university finding cocaine, heroin and crystal meth – Scott Oake’s story really tugged at my heart.”

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When Mr. Oake, host of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, stepped forward to tell The Globe and Mail of his son Bruce’s fatal addiction, it resonated with parents across the country. Mr. Simkin, the father of a 32-year-old-addict, was one of them. He has always feared that same outcome for his own son.

Addiction was once a taboo subject that families kept under wraps. Many still do. But Mr. Simkin felt compelled to share his story – as did others – in the hopes that parents and children know there is help. Mr. Oake’s tragic tale attracted hundreds of online comments, as well as tweets and Facebook posts. His son, Bruce, died 13 months ago of an accidental overdose at the age of 25 after spending months in and out of rehabilitation facilities. Drug overdose killed more than 36,000 people in North America last year alone.

While Aaron remains an addict, his father says that his son is making progress. And he sees a doctor once a month for related mental-health issues. But it took years and a few trips to rehab centres to reach this point, and it will take many years more to completely turn things around. “An abstinence-based lifestyle is not practical for me,” says Aaron, who now lives in Toronto and holds down a part-time restaurant job. “But I can reduce the harm that kind of lifestyle inflicts on me.”

Aaron’s father says that the Simkin family has learned some harsh lessons about drugs and rehabilitation facilities. They learned, he says, that there is no simple fix, and that they were in for a long struggle with the youngest of their two children. Mr. Simkin still keeps close tabs on his son, and says he’s no longer afraid to tell Aaron’s story to anyone who asks: “People have to know about it and understand what families are going through. If only people understand what kind of damage is being done here, then perhaps there will be more pressure to bring in effective treatment programs.”

Mr. Oake, the day after his story went public, is still being inundated with supportive e-mails from across the country. Colleagues and strangers have told him they were encouraged by his words as they struggle to help their own loved ones.

“For us, it’s all about trying to make Bruce’s life mean something,” Mr. Oake says. “And we can’t do that by not talking about it. Our son’s struggle ended tragically. But there are so many kids in Bruce’s situation who are falling victim to powerful street drugs, like OxyContin, crystal meth. Any awareness, anyone thinking for a moment that maybe there’s a better way because of Bruce’s struggle, makes it all worthwhile to have gone public.”

One father wrote on globeandmail.com about how he debated for a moment about posting a comment on Mr. Oake’s story. He also had a child who was addicted to drugs. “Then,” he wrote, “I thought that you had the wherewithal to share your story, I should have at least the wherewithal to say thanks for sharing in the hope that your willingness to share your story and work towards treatment for our youth will reduce and save the pain for many parents still coping.”

Another parent, Laurie de Grace of Edmonton, shared her story of first becoming aware of her daughter’s addiction in Grade 9. Her daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability and suffered from attention deficit disorder. She did drugs, and her parents would often find empty bottles under her bed, Ms. de Grace said.

Now, at the age of 23, her daughter has just completed her first year of sobriety. Ms. de Grace thinks Mr. Oake’s story can only serve to benefit others: “I just think there’s somebody out there that can be helped by it.”

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