Lorna Thomas and Petra Schulz, both from Edmonton, and Leslie McBain, from Pender Island, BC first met in 2015, after the first story about the death of Petra’s son Danny, from an accidental fentanyl overdose, appeared in the Edmonton Journal. Lorna’s son Alex died by suicide after struggling with mental health and substance use and Leslie’s son Jordan Miller died from an overdose after becoming opioid dependent on prescription drugs. We started to work together in August 2015, but did not form Moms Stop The Harm until April 2016, after Lorna and Leslie returned from a United Nations meeting on drug policy(UNGASS) in New York City.
In April 2016 there were 3 of us and we quickly grew to around 30 moms by October 2016, when we met in Summerland as a group of 12 (see photo on the website) and decided on our goals and "who we are statement." At the moment there are over 100 network members and allies. Most of our members and allies are moms who have lost children, but there are also some dads, siblings, grandmas and increasingly girlfriends who want to speak out. We also have a few members who are in recovery and several moms whose children are either still using or are working on recovery. Sadly, the number of deaths are growing every day.
Most of our members are in BC and AB, but we have small but mighty group in Saskatoon and an active and growing group in Manitoba, mostly Winnipeg. As the fentanyl problem is moving east, we are seeing more members from Ontario and the Atlantic provinces joining MSTH.
What is the problem?
What is important to point out, is the fact that we do not have fentanyl crisis, but an opioid crisis that started with over-prescribing and moved into the illicit market either with people getting dependent on their prescriptions or illegally buying prescription drugs. The US and Canada prescribe more opioids per person than any other nation in the world and Alberta has the highest rates in Canada (we are indeed the "world leaders").
What has happened with more people becoming dependent and the prescription drugs becoming harder to get, more people are being pushed into the illegal market. Here the criminal element has filled a market niche with Fentanyl. It is cheap to produce, easy to smuggle, the profits are huge and the dealers don't care if a few customers die, as there are always new ones. Fentanyl has made drug use so much more dangerous and every person who uses should follow our drug safety rules and have Naloxone, even if they are just using "recreationally" and are using another drug, like cocaine, as it too could be contaminated.
What needs to be done?
We will never arrest all the dealers, no matter how hard we try, so what we need to do is reduce demand by doing everything in our power to educate about substance use, prevent overdose and offer treatment to everyone who needs and wants it. We also need safe drugs on prescription for those who are too deeply involved for treatment to work. Doctors also need to stop over-prescribing opioids and need to help those patients who have become dependent on them.
We also need to address the reality that 3 out 4 people who die by overdose are men. This corresponds to the fact that 80% of people who die by suicide are men. Young men are struggling as they negotiate the strict expectations of manhood. These expectations include the rejection of emotions and genuine relationships, actions which correlate to men’s higher rates of mental illness, violent crime, addiction, and suicide. “Both suicide and OD may be acts of men who have lost hope that life will provide meaning through work, family or loving partnership, men who don’t care whether they live or die, men who are in a narrow corner of despair." (Dan Bilsker, UBC).
Young men and woman need to have real education on mental health and on substance use. No matter how hard we try, some people will always use substances, and we need to make sure they stay alive. We also need to reduce the stigma and ensure that it is ok to talk about mental health concerns and drug use without fear and shame.
Moms Stop The Harm is harnessing the family voice to address these issues and hope you will join us and advocate for change.