Toronto woman revives man with life-saving drug after losing son to overdose

Mara Cole is a 64-year-old east end resident who had three sons but a few years ago, lost one to a drug overdose. Last week, she found another young man, someone else’s son, in the same condition and did what she could to try to save his life. Now, she wants others to know that Naloxone kits are free, easy to administer and, with an opioid crisis still raging in the city and across the country, absolutely necessary.

For Cole, the story began with a distressing yet familiar situation — encountering someone in the throes of a drug overdose. This was the second such incident for her in a month, a stark reminder of the grip of the opioid crisis on our society. Following the first encounter, Cole took a proactive step by obtaining two Naloxone kits, available for free at Shopper’s Drug Mart. 

The second encounter was as unexpected as the first. On their way home from a dinner outing, she came across a man in a dimly lit alley north of Danforth Avenue near Coxwell Avenue. Nearby, a young couple had dialed 911, their voices shaking with worry. The man in question lay motionless, disconnected from the world around him. In this critical moment, Cole’s swift and determined response became a lifeline. She tried to administer Naloxone using a nasal spray, and thankfully, the individual regained consciousness without further intervention. Cole wasn’t sure it was her administering the drug or her jamming it up his nose that revived him, but it worked. 

“So that was great. And luckily, he wasn’t violent,” she said. “He wasn’t coherent. He was definitely in need of medical attention. But he was able to talk and he was very apologetic.”

The man in the alley appeared as a clean and polite young man, according to Cole. He began apologizing to her while holding a pipe in his hand. He told her that he was homeless.

“I suspect he ended up fine because he seemed like he wasn’t going to go downhill from there,” Cole explained. “I don’t even know that he was on opioids, right? That’s the other thing. Naloxone only works on opioid overdoses. But it can’t hurt. That’s the biggest point I’m trying to make.”

A week prior to the event, Cole had encountered another person in the Don Mills area who appeared to be overdosing.

“There was a woman outside who was completely unconscious, blue lips, definitely barely breathing, and definitely an overdose,” she said. “And a guy had already called 911. So we were late on the scene, and he didn’t have Naloxone, so could do nothing. They took her away, and I’m not convinced that she would have necessarily made it.”

That prompted Cole to be proactive and get Naloxone kits just in case.

“I just thought, this is ridiculous,” she said. “It’s everywhere; you hear about it in Leslieville, that people are stumbling across bodies all the time.”

Cole, who has no medical training, wants others to know how easy and vitally important it is. According to her, people will have a choice when requesting a kit from the drug store — an injection kit or a nasal spray kit.

This story also serves as a reminder of the broader opioid crisis that has affected the province of Ontario. In 2021, a staggering 2,819 individuals lost their lives to opioid-related causes, marking the highest number on record. This figure is a significant escalation from the 366 deaths recorded in 2003. The urgency of the situation becomes clear when one understands that Naloxone, a life-saving medication, can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose, restore breathing within two to five minutes and provide a window for medical assistance to arrive.

Cole said she wants people to be empathetic and to think about what it is to be an addict, and understand that anyone could find themselves in a bad situation that could turn worse quite quickly.

“Now your doctor can make you an addict by prescribing certain pain medications. So an addict is not somebody who had a bad upbringing and then decided to go on drugs. It’s everybody. It’s your sister, your brother, people with mental health challenges who self medicate. That was my son’s case,” she said. “It’s everybody. So I think that’s the starting point. And then compassion is the second point. If you don’t help somebody, they could die. Right?”

Cole’s story ends with a plea: Naloxone can be the difference between life and death for someone’s child, parent, sibling or friend. Administering this life-saving antidote is remarkably straightforward and safe, with no risk to the individual. The message is clear — get a free Naloxone kit, for those who overdose are no different from anyone else. Life’s twists and turns do not discriminate, and compassion can bridge the gap between despair and hope.

She also thinks the government should do more to make Naloxone kits available and more in the public realm, like defibrillators in addition to a widespread public awareness campaign. The city also offers Naloxone training.

“In my own case, you know, having lost my third son a few years ago to a drug overdose, it’s a daily horror still,” she said. “It’s important to me because I recognise that that guy in the alley belongs to somebody, is important to somebody. And even if you’re not, you still matter.”