Why Did our Son Ryan Have To Die?


Our son Ryan passed away on April 13th 2009 at the age of 25.

Our son was living in Calgary Alberta at the time and was being prescribed 80mg OxyContin for neck pain by a doctor practicing in Ontario. The doctor was prescribing this drug without regular monitoring of our son and was knowingly allowing it to be sent out to Calgary to him. We find this both criminally and ethically completely unacceptable given all the information regarding this drug available to all doctors at this time as well as back when our son passed away and prior.

It has been 3 years now and we are finally able to bring ourselves to look further into his death. Prior to this we have been in an extreme state of depression in which getting out of bed each morning without wishing ourselves dead has been about the biggest challenge we've been able to overcome each day. We are still in that extreme state of depression but at least now we are able to direct some energy to finding out why our son passed away.

The Autopsy report states that the cause of death was cerebral edema due to cocaine toxicity.

Since the day we received both the Toxicology Report and the Autopsy report we have had serious questions as to its validity but just now am able to read it in detail, over and over again, and start asking questions without crippling pain ripping through our entire bodies. The pain does still flood our body each time we think about this but we are now able to function enough to question those that need questioning to get real answers to Ryan's death.

After review of the Toxicology report, after asking many questions to a large number of people and through endless research on the internet, we find that the levels of cocaine in our son’s body at the time of death were well below the fatal levels. Additional to this the levels of Oxycodone in our son’s body were far beyond normal levels for someone taking as prescribed OxyContin at 80mg. We were very surprised to see that the Autopsy report did not address this at any point in time. The only focus of that report was on cocaine.

How can this be we wondered? How can a Toxicology report clearly state, even to an untrained eye, that cocaine levels are far below even recreational use and Oxycodone levels extremely elevated yet the Autopsy report does not address this in any way. We don't recall anyone calling us from the Medical Examiner’s office to ask whether we knew how long Ryan was on the drug, whether he was trying to quit taking it or not, whether he seemed depressed or not, whether he had ever spoke of suicide or not in the past, etc. It's almost as if they completely ignored the fact that there was Oxycodone in his system and took the attitude of "Here's another kid doing cocaine, he has a swollen brain which is consistent with cocaine abuse, let’s just leave it at that and call it cerebral edema due to cocaine toxicity".

If they had have put just a little effort into investigating why our son passed away and made a phone call to his parents they may have found out a thing or two that could have changed the results of the Autopsy report. For instance they would have found out that Ryan had tried to quit taking OxyContin cold turkey just 1 month or so prior to his passing. They would have found out that he lasted about a month and just prior to his death was unable to handle the withdrawal symptoms and started taking them again, at which time he called his doctor again in Ontario to get more. He must have still had some left from his previous prescription to get him through until the new bottle of OxyContin arrived.

During our questioning and investigation we found out that the withdrawal symptoms from OxyContin can be just as bad as Heroin. This is because they are both Opioid based drugs that come from the same source. We also found out that if a person has stopped taking prescribed high dosages of OxyContin for a short period of time and then starts back at it on that same high dosage of OxyContin it can be very dangerous, in fact it can cause swelling of the brain, or the medical term cerebral edema.

So we have to ask ourselves, if the Medical Examiner’s office had done a proper investigation and asked just a few questions to the people closest to Ryan would they have come to a different conclusion as to his cause of death?  We’re quite confident that it would, at a minimum, been something they would have looked at further as being a serious contender for the cause of death.

What really happened to our son Ryan is that he was badly addicted to the OxyContin and it really had a hold of him. The OxyContin really messed with his mind to the point that he could no longer make rational decisions and he felt he needed to toy with ending his life. He started to wonder whether if he took enough, along with a little cocaine, what it would do. He followed through with this irrational thought and now there is a wake of family and friends who are devastated by his passing.

A year after Ryan died I called the Calgary Medical Examiner’s office and spoke to the medical examiner who looked after Ryan’s case. I had questions then about the cocaine and Oxycodone numbers showing up on the Toxicology report and wanted an explanation and some answers as to why the cocaine levels seemed so low and the Oxycodone levels seemed so high and why the Oxycodone was never mentioned in the Autopsy report. All my questions were rejected. There was no way they were going to admit to making a mistake. After my personal investigation mentioned above along with a trip out to Calgary, and with a little help from the local Calgary politicians, I was put in contact with the Chief Medical Examiner for Alberta who all the regional medical examiners report to. I wrote her a detailed letter with all the research I had done and all my medical findings and compared them to the Toxicology report and Autopsy report issues in Calgary. I explained using the research I had done why I felt the Autopsy report, and cause of death, were inaccurate. She finally agreed with me and in April 2011 she officially changed the cause of death to “cerebral edema due to Oxycodone toxicity”.

All of this story of our son Ryan leads us to a great number of questions regarding what laws, processes and procedures we have in place today to protect us from the inappropriate prescribing and dispensing of opiate based drugs, specifically OxyContin.

It also leads me to question just how much of a role Ryan’s General Practitioner played in his death and whether this doctor needs to answer for it, either in a criminal court or at a minimum ethically.

Why did our son Ryan have to die?

Why was he not being monitored?

Why was he not being treated for his physical ailments that lead to the OxyContin in the first place?

If he was being monitored carefully would the doctor have noticed the signs of depression that was the real cause for him to be escaping life with these drugs?

If he was being monitored would Ryan and the doctor have discussed him wanting to get off OxyContin and been put on a proper plan to get him off instead of him being alone in Calgary and feeling he had to quit cold turkey?

Why would the doctor indicate to him that she was prescribing him the OxyContin in April that she allowed to be sent out to him but that would be the last one? This is like telling someone you have 1 month to breath and then we are cutting off your oxygen supply. Why was she not offering to get him off gradually?

Was what the doctor said the reason for Ryan to choose to end his life? Was he not able to cope with the thought of no more OxyContin?

There are so many "whys" and "could it have been prevented" surrounding Ryan's passing it can drive parents crazy.


On March 21, 2012 I, Ryan’s dad, was at an appointment with my therapist and started to tell him about the investigations we had been doing lately. I told him about going to see a medium, about joining ARPO, about wanting to join in the fight to better control Opiate based pain killers, told him we really wanted to help other parents or kids with this problem and/or help bereaved parents through difficult times. He saw all these activities as good activities to undertake. He didn't see them all as activities that would help get my life back on track but all good as side hobbies.

Then I told him about wanting to find out whether the doctor prescribing these drugs to our son Ryan should be held responsible in some way. I told him we were not on a witch hunt but did want to know what she had done to make sure our son was receiving the appropriate care required to deal with his neck pain at it's source and get him off these pain killers. I told the therapist I also wanted to know why he was put on them to begin with, why she was not monitoring him closely. I wanted to find out if his doctor, either criminally or ethically, holds responsibility in some way for his death and if so make her answer for this. As soon as I brought this up he dropped me as a client. He said he didn't see this as a productive activity, he felt I was living in the past and not moving forward which produced a conflict in goals between us and due to this could no longer be my therapist. I was shocked at this response. I asked the therapist if it was possible for us to "agree to disagree" on this topic and move forward with therapy but he said no, it was not possible.

I really had a hard time with this. Why would I be dropped immediately at the mention of seeing whether a doctor holds responsibility in any way for our son’s death? Even when I told him it was not a witch hunt but merely seeing if there was malpractice here, mostly for the reason of wanting to ensure this tragedy does not happen to another kid or leave another set of parents in eternal despair from the loss of a child, it wasn’t good enough. I was dropped like a rock. So is this a case of doctors wanting to stick together and protect other doctors? Maybe we’ll never know but it sure seems that way to me.

Our son Ryan was one of the most kind hearted, easy going people we knew in this world. He would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you were in need. He would befriend anyone no matter who you were just because he thought that was important to do. If you worked in the same establishment as Ryan you were treated with the friendliest of manner possible between two human beings. If you were new at the job he would go out of his way to introduce himself and make you comfortable. He was always there to help you if you needed it and ensure your journey into your new job role was a smooth ride, even if he didn’t work with you directly. He was our boy who liked to travel, see and experience new things and get out of his comfort zone to broaden his horizons. He enjoyed sharing all this with everyone he knew so they could experience as well without ever having to leave the comforts of home. He had more friends than we can count and he had them from one side of this world to the other, from Toronto to Vancouver, down into the US, across the oceans to Thailand and back again. He enjoyed living in different parts of the country just to experience something different. His next plan just before passing away was to move to Bangkok and experience Asia first hand for longer then the few weeks he used to come visit me. Ryan has a large number of cousins who all held him in such high regard that his death has been crushing to a number of them. To some of them he was the “cool” cousin who they had looked up to, learned from and even modeled themselves after all their lives.

Our son did not deserve to die. He was full of life plans and full of love and great things to give to this world and everyone in it. Why is big business allowed to put money ahead of all else and take lives like Ryan’s with no remorse?

This needs to stop!!!