Cathy Johne was relieved to learn her son was back in jail.Derek Johne, 28, had wrestled with addiction much of his life. For his mother, the news he was in the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton after an arrest for theft meant he would receive medical attention, psychological support and be under careful watch.Cathy Johne cries in her home while remembering her son Derek, who died in Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont. The coroner declared the death an accident and the cause a toxic combination of heroin, oxycodone and the synthetic opioid fentanyl. (Anne-Marie Jackson / Toronto Star)Derek Johne, in a photo provided by his family. (Provided)A shrine to her son Derek is seen on the Magnetawan, Ont., home of Cathy Johne. (Anne-Marie Jackson / Toronto Star)“He had asked me to hold on and believe in him one more time, because he was going to get help this time,” she told the Star. Her son was arrested in late April 2017 for stealing from a Whole Foods Market and LCBO and violating his probation. He had been in the jail for less than two months and was counting down the days to a pretrial he hoped would lead to his release when he was found unresponsive inside his cell, on the evening of June 20.Jail staff tried to revive him, so did the paramedics who took him to Milton District Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The coroner declared the death an accident and the cause a toxic combination of heroin, oxycodone and the synthetic opioid fentanyl. A memorial service was held on the same day his loved ones hoped he would be let out of jail. Fentanyl, in prescription form, is used to manage extreme pain but new and widespread illicit versions of unpredictable potency have been identified by front line workers and health experts as the biggest risk for recreational users and are increasingly linked to a surging death rate across the province.Despite Cathy Johne’s failed hope that incarceration meant her son was safe, his story confirms what those fighting for better services for drug users already know, that little can be done to keep fentanyl at bay — even prison gates.Public Health Ontario reports that types of fentanyl were detected in the blood of nearly 64 per cent of the 1,265 people who died of an opioid overdose in Ontario in 2017, up from almost 41 per cent of 867 people in 2016.Johne was among five Maplehurst inmates who died in 2017 and one of three involving some kind of overdose, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario confirmed.The office, which records all fatal overdoses across the province, provided the Star with statistics on deaths for 36 Ontario facilities from 2017 to 2010 — including correctional facilities, jails, treatment and remand centres, detention centres and youth centres — although overdoses are lumped together under alcohol toxicity, drug toxicity or both. The 2018 data is not available yet. The year Johne died, 44 per cent of the 25 deaths across all facilities involved some form of toxicity, compared to 41 per cent of a total of 17 deaths in 2016 and slightly under half of the 15 deaths reported in 2015.Howard Sapers, the former independent adviser for Ontario jails, says despite the physical barriers created through incarceration inmates are not immune to what takes place outside the walls — including changes in the street drug supply. Sapers says narcotics will never be kept entirely out of jails and there must be more training, treatment options and tools to prevent the deaths of people who will inevitably use them. “In Canada, we tell ourselves we do not send people to jail to die,” he says.The Ministry of the Solicitor General does not comment on individual inmates or security protocols, spokesperson Andrew Morrison told the Star via email.“This government has been clear in its commitment to addressing issues facing correctional services,” including reviewing existing corrections legislation, Morrison says. “Protecting the people and ensuring staff safety will guide this work.” Because Johne was in provincial custody an inquest will be held. The average wait for the public hearing is two years and no date has been set. For his mother, who has been told she also must wait to hear what happened to her son, the opaqueness of the lengthy process has been unbearable.“I don’t think I’ve totally dealt with Derek’s death because I don’t have all the answers yet,” she says. “When you say overdose, a lot of people think right away that he took his life. He didn’t … he had a plan.”Derek Holden Johne was much more than the drugs that often controlled parts of his life.A quiet child he was drawn to adults, particularly his mother. “He was the helper in the household,” big-hearted and loving, she says.While affection came easy, he struggled in school and was later diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Their family moved to Magnetawan, a township near Parry Sound, Ont., so he could be in smaller classrooms and he responded well. “That made him happy to be acknowledged,” his mother says.They rented a farmhouse on about 30 square kilometres of land, with a pond and beaver dam, thick with trees cut by weaving trails. Derek, his older brother, younger sister and his mother would all ride snowmobiles through the property.“We’d go out there and the kids liked to do doughnuts on the ice,” she says. At Christmas they would ride across the snow and cut their own tree.Nicole Eldridge sits on her bed holding a bear that contains some of fiance Derek Johne’s ashes. Since his death, she has quit using hard drugs. “There is hope. Just keep trying … I am so strong. I never believed it. Derek always used to say it,” she says. (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)Grade 7 and 8 meant bigger classes, new friends and trouble that including smoking, stealing small things and breaking into abandoned buildings, his mother says. He spent time in youth facilities, including ones in North Bay and Sudbury, Ont. “Even from a young age I tried and tried and tried to get him help and there wasn’t help available for him. I always say the system failed him,” she says.During one of those stays staff prescribed mood-regulating drugs, which Johne never stayed on as they made him feel sick or unlike himself, his mother says.“After that he was always looking for a certain feeling, a certain something that he was missing” that he tried to get back by trying different types of drugs, she says. “He could never explain it to me, but it made him feel better and he was always looking for the next one that would make him feel even better.”A final straw, about a decade ago, was him asking her for money when she was recovering from surgery, she says. “It could be your son, it could be your husband, your neighbour, your doctor, your lawyer. So many people are addicted and need help. And it just takes over your life so fast.”Chasing that certain feeling was part of his bond with fiancée Nicole Eldridge.They met in 2012 and became inseparable. “He had unconditional love for me,” she says. They got heart tattoos instead of wedding bands “because he might have sold the rings.” The couple were addicts, she says, but it was about functioning, not partying. Their drug of choice, crack cocaine, helped them focus and quelled their anxiety. “It helped us, we called it our medicine.”Eldridge told the Star she gave up hard drugs a year and a half ago and has been fighting to stabilize her mental health.The last time she saw Johne was the night of the arrest. According to a summary of charges submitted in court, Johne stole from an Oakville Whole Foods and nearby LCBO and had violated the rules of his probation that forbid him from purchasing, consuming or being in possession of alcohol, entering LCBO stores or a PetroCan on Third Line. From jail, Johne spoke with Eldridge on the phone several times a day and “I always had letters,” she says. In his last letter, which she read after he died, he asked her to “have his baby.”Their plan was to work on recovery together, she says, and buy a real ring.“We had been talking about it for months. This was not the life we wanted to have,” she says. Eventually, they were going to try for full custody of her young daughter who he loved deeply and who she called “Daddy Derek.”While Johne was in jail he would have, as his mother hoped, access to a range of treatment services. Ministry spokesperson Morrison told the Star that “inmates, who are identified at the time of admission as having substance use issues, including opioid addiction, are assessed and provided needed health care supports,” and the ministry partners with social service agencies so people get support in and after leaving jail. Johne was looking forward to a simpler, calmer life but his final days were far from peaceful, based on the post-mortem report sent to his mother more than a year after his death.What follows is pre-autopsy information provided by Halton Regional Police as part of that report. While in Maplehurst, Johne had been in the medical wing of the jail because of a shoulder injury in May. On June 17, he was found with “a large quantity of medication not prescribed to him.” Two days later he “purchased and subsequently used” heroin. He didn’t sleep that night and was “noted to be vomiting.” On June 20, he was described as acting “super hyper” and obtained and took a second dose of heroin.He was found in his cell that night, lying on his right side, in the “recovery position” with his back to the wall and with a grey tint to his skin. A small plastic bag with a tie was in the toilet. The cell could occupy two inmates but Johne was alone. Correctional staff used an automatic external defibrillator, then emergency medical staff tried to resuscitate him, as did paramedics before he was taken to Milton hospital. Johne was given naloxone, a drug that reverses the fatal impact that opioids have on breathing, “multiple times without effect” but the report does not detail who gave it to him and when. Nicole Eldridge holds a heart box that contains some of fiance Derek Johne’s ashes. On her ring finger both she and Derek had a heart tattoo as she was worried they would sell their wedding rings for drug money. (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)Five days after he died, Johne’s family held a service for him in Sundridge, Ont., a village near Algonquin Park, close to where he was raised. His body was cremated. That memorial took place on the same day that a judicial pretrial had been scheduled in Milton court, a closed-door proceeding that Johne, his loved ones and his lawyer had hoped would end with him being sentenced with time served and released. What his mother and fiancée want to know is why was a man with a documented history of drug use and related arrests, who was caught with prescription drugs, not better supervised. About five months after Johne’s death, Maplehurst inmate Curtis McGowan, 32, died after consuming fentanyl, the CBC reported. The Star does not know the details of the third overdose death that year. Maplehurst inmate Francisco Javier Romero Astorga, 39, died in hospital on March 13, 2016, after ingesting fentanyl and methamphetamine, according to the coroner’s office. Between 2015 and 2010 no overdoses were reported at that jail, the coroner reported. About six months before Johne died, the coroner’s office had recommended the ministry “co-ordinate a strategic plan” to prevent deadly drugs from being consumed in jail, track fatal and non-fatal overdoses and convene a working group of experts by January 2019. The group has not been convened. The coroner’s recommendations, which the ministry is not obligated to act on, came at the end of a joint inquest into the deaths of Paul Stevens, 51, and Jeffrey Sutton, 36, who both died of drug overdoses while being held at the Toronto South Detention Centre.Stevens ingested fentanyl, cocaine and the antidepressant bupropion in 2015, and Sutton died of acute cocaine toxicity in 2010. Because a suspected overdose is part of an inmate’s private medical file it is confidential and the data is not tracked centrally, a press secretary for the previous minister told the Star. Morrison says the ministry has implemented body scanners at almost all facilities — used when people are admitted and at the discretion of the superintendent if a security concern arises — and has canine teams to slow the flow of contraband. Chris Jackel, corrections division chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, wants naloxone to be carried by all corrections officers. The ministry should also make it easier for staff to have access to those scanners, if contraband is suspected, and boost the number of trained intelligence officers and drug sniffing dogs. “If there is one death, there is one death too many,” Jackel says. “This can be avoided.”Morrison says naloxone is available at all sites for nurses to administer and if a nurse is not present correctional staff can use the nasal version of the drug if an opioid overdose is suspected. Sapers, who is still involved with projects aimed at improving jail systems, says the provincial government can improve safety through the Correctional Services and Reintegration Act, which became law last spring.The purpose of the act is to improve training and screening methods for contraband, as well as improve living conditions and health services, and move to a more individual focus on rehabilitation and reintegration. The appointment of an inspector general of correctional services would also improve safety, Sapers says. “Somebody has to be present to keep asking that question (how to reduce overdose deaths), somebody has to have the access to be able to freely look at information, enter premises, talk to people and not just in the way that reacts to the crisis but prevents it,” Sapers says.“Even from a young age I tried and tried and tried to get him help,” says Cathy Johne of her son Derek, “And there wasn’t help available for him.” (Chris So / Toronto Star)Johne’s loved ones might never learn exactly what, if anything, could have prevented his death. They hope that talking about what happened to him could result in some kind of positive change. Eldridge gave up hard drugs six months after Johne died and is committed to keeping the promise they made to each other. She sought out support for her mental health, which includes profound anxiety, and now has her own apartment and joint custody of her daughter. Nothing about it has been easy. “Hard doesn’t even touch it,” she says. “There is hope. Just keep trying … I am so strong. I never believed it. Derek always used to say it.” Waiting for the inquest is just another phase of an unbearable experience, she says. “He keeps dying in our heads over and over.”At his sister’s wedding this summer, Johne’s family will set out an empty chair with a sign letting guests know it is saved for somebody in heaven.His mother dwells on other milestones their family will miss. Her son wanted more children, who he would have taught to ride dirt bikes and snowmobiles and spoiled with chocolate, she says. “He would have been good.”The small things hurt just as much. “To this day, when the phone rings, I think it is going to be him.”Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. 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