Mom says methadone killed her son

Woman becomes anti-drug advocate after teenager’s death

Barb Sweet
Published on May 29, 2012
Mary Payne of St. John’s lost her son Jeffrey, 17, in March. She believes he obtained methadone as a street drug. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Mary Payne’s small living room is filled with mementoes of her son. Among them, a hockey glove, a ball cap signed by NHL player Danny Cleary, a large photo montage and a small cross fashioned from more pictures.

But it’s her grief and determination that overflows the room as she speaks.

Jeffrey Payne, 17, died on March 4, she says, after taking methadone apparently obtained as a street drug.

Not an addict

He was not in the opiate addiction drug therapy program and was not an addict, Payne says.

Rather, Jeffrey was a Grade 12 student at Bishop’s College, a hockey-crazed teenager who veered off into a life where easy cash brought a hard lesson.

Just as he began to realize that lesson, it all went horribly wrong.

“I was getting ready for his Grade 12 graduation, had his tie and everything bought,” Mary Payne says, breaking down as she notes he was buried wearing that tie instead.

“I knew he went down the wrong path, but I knew he came back to me again. I knew he wanted to do good, and that’s what kills me the most, the fact that he was very close to success.”

Mary knows the full force of her son’s death has not hit her yet and she is bracing herself for it by speaking out against drugs, against methadone being available on the street, and always about the good of her son.

“I want to let everybody know what a good kid my son was. My son is in the grave and I can’t let him die in vain. I want to show the world what the world thought of my boy,” says Payne, who is trying to organize a street hockey event for her modest west end cul-de-sac on the day Jeffrey would have turned 18 — June 24. 

Payne was not someone who talked to reporters before all this happened. Nor, she says, did she know much about drugs.

Her son had moved out of her home in December 2011, to share accommodations with an older man, a friend of his.

Payne says she called the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to try to keep him at home, but was told he was over 16 and of age to make his own decision.

He started skipping school and then quit altogether. He would come home wearing new clothes and fancy sneakers.

When his mother questioned him, he confided in her and said he wouldn’t get caught. But she says he did — in an apparent drug run out of town — and was placed on probation.

He came back home late in February, went back to school and, she says, owned up to his mistakes. Payne says she spent every evening with her son.

Then her elderly mother, in a nursing home on the Southern Shore, had a fall.

That Saturday, Payne went out of town and phoned Jeffrey that night. He said he was watching a hockey game with his older brother.

“Everything was best kind. ‘Mom, I love you. See you tomorrow,’” she says.

When her oldest son went out, Jeffrey apparently had two friends over and sent a text message to another friend saying, “I think I’m going to try the ’done.”

But Mary Payne did not know that — he was fine when a family friend phoned him on Sunday.

By that suppertime, Payne returned to find Jeffrey stretched out on his bed in boxer shorts.

She thought he was asleep and closed his bedroom door. His probation officer called shortly after 9 p.m.

“When I went in and tried to wake him up, he was stone cold, freezing as ice. He had dried blood on his mouth,” she says.

“The probation officer kept saying, ‘Put the phone up to his ear.” And I was screaming. I said, ‘He’s dead! I knows he’s dead because he’s too ice cold.’

“It’s the biggest shock I had of my life.”

Payne says Jeffrey’s father lives on the mainland, and is also devastated by the death.

Some longstanding patients who use methadone are allowed to take their “carries” home rather than drink them in front of a pharmacist, and they are reportedly being sold for as much as $120 each on the street.

Payne says a full report on her son’s death won’t be done for weeks, but she’s been told there was a high level of methadone in his body.

She fears the intentions of whoever he bought the methadone from and says there was rumour her son was being marked for his involvement in the drug run.

But she says she’s unlikely to ever know the truth of what happened.

“I am hoping not just methadone — all the highly addictive drugs that are out there and that are killers should be off the streets,” she says. “And the ones that they are killing are the young teenagers.

“I didn’t know anything, that there were that many highly addictive drugs on the street. I never even thought about it before, but right now it scares me. It’s shocking what’s out there. I’m after finding out so much all on my own.”

The peer pressure facing kids is beyond anything from past generations, says Barry Smith, who coached Jeffrey, the No. 3 forward for the St. John’s minor hockey team PuckHogs.

Smith’s son played hockey with the short-statured youth, affectionately dubbed “Little Big Man.”

He wasn’t a star player, but he was a rink rat, Smith said.

And now he says he’ll be looking around for the Jeffrey Paynes in the dressing room — the kids who might be in for a harder time in life because of modest family incomes that make higher education difficult to achieve; the ones who are eager to please and don’t want to disappoint, leaving them vulnerable to being preyed upon by the wrong people.

“I was comfortable with him, that he’d do OK,” Smith says. “He did not strike me as someone that this was going to happen to.

“I was not the same person after that phone call. It changed me. You re-examine — what did you miss? Was there something that could have helped?”

Smith describes Jeffrey as streetwise, but always respectful.

“He really was a team player. We all loved him. … He went on the ice and inspired us all. He was all go, gave it everything he had,” says Smith, who coached Jeffrey since he was 13.

Through the years, he tried to keep the boy on his teams, because Mary Payne asked him to.

“I thought the world of him and he had high opinion of me,” he says.

Parents have to be even more vigilant now, to stay active and in communication with their children, Smith says, adding Payne was, and cared deeply, but she is a single parent who works hard.

Jeffrey’s hockey attendance started to dwindle, but there was no obvious red flag, Smith says, adding life in St. John’s has changed, making the pressure so much tougher for kids.

“It’s a rich-in-money type community. There was no such thing as all these types of drugs. Now there’s all this designer stuff,” he says.

“It’s scary what goes on at night.”

There will be an annual award now for the hardest working minor hockey forward in St. John’s. And Jeffrey’s jersey will be retired.

Mary Payne is hoping politicians, hockey players, kids, addictions groups and others will come out for her street hockey event. She is hoping to get some donations for food and prizes, and otherwise would love to see people support St. John’s minor hockey.

This weekend would have been Jeffrey’s graduation, and in December she will accept his diploma.

And she’ll likely keep talking, keep repeating her new slogan: “Go green, stay clean,” after her son’s favourite colour — he was crazy about one day owning a green Mustang.

“Right now, this is the only thing that’s keeping me going,” she says.

“It’s making me really strong.”