Petra was invited to present to the Law Enforement Round Table in Ottawa on March 19, 2018. The presentation given was a slightly abbreviated version from the text below.
Welcome to 2018, the year when more people will die from causes related to substance use in Canada than ever. When I wished my family and friends a happy New Year last night it was with a heavy heart. 2018 is the third year that begins without our youngest son Danny, and the first year for over 4000 Canadian families who lost a loved one to an overdose or other causes related to substance use in 2017.
How do I know that 2018 will be worse? I follow provincial (Alberta, British Columbia) and federal overdose surveillance reports on fatal overdoses and the reported trend is sharply upward. The users, advocates and front-line workers in my social media and personal networks have also seen significant increases in deaths. Every day more families join Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH). Most organizations would view growth from 3 founding members (Lorna Thomas, Leslie McBain and I) in May 2016 to over 300 members in December 2017 as a success, but in our case every new submission via our website comes with a story of desperation, fear, and pain. Desperation and fear for those who have a loved one struggling with substance use and the extreme pain of the newly bereaved. Too many times this year we received a cry for help from a family who do not know where to get treatment for a child, or how to deal with the loss of someone who had so much promise and their entire life ahead of them. The stories are so familiar showing bright young faces from all walks of life, backgrounds and regions of the county.
We have seen progress over the past year: more supervised consumption sites have been approved; peer and volunteer lead overdose prevention sites can soon operate legally; and Naloxone (an antidote that can reverse the effect of an overdose) is being distributed more widely in BC, Alberta, and Ontario. Access to treatment is improving and innovative treatment approaches, such as rapid access programs in emergency rooms and the provision of safe drugs, are being implemented. Several provinces and the federal government are developing anti-stigma campaigns, and the federal government has made funding available through its Substance Use and Addictions Program and other initiatives.
Why do people continue to die despite this progress? There is not one clear answer to this complex question, but part of the answer is that the federal government, provincial and territorial health care providers let the crisis get out of hand before taking action and the response has not been commensurate with its magnitude. Have we ever had 4000 people die from a disease or other health condition without a comprehensive national strategy?
Many of the measures taken to date , such as supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites, are most effective for people who are homeless or unstably housed. Data from the BC Coroners Service, released in October 2017, shows that 87% of overdoses occur indoors, often in people’s homes (59%) and presumably when people use alone. These at-risk users include casual users and those who have developed an addiction. Casual users seem to be most at risk, as they have not developed a tolerance for opioids and they may be unaware that other drugs are contaminated with fentanyl (tests at Insite in Vancouver show that around 80% of all street drugs contain a synthetic opioid, such as Fentanyl). Most casual users do not know how to recognize and respond to an overdose. According to a CBC News report from Winnipeg a young man who died when he and his friends shared pills they thought were Oxycontin. His friends and his brother thought he was “sleeping it off” when he was in fact dying from an overdose.
One of the greatest barriers to addressing the problem is the stigma that surrounds substance use, which causes both casual users and those who live with an addiction to hide their use, including by using alone. When people use alone, no one is there to help when they overdose, like our son Danny who we found dead in his apartment in downtown Edmonton, in walking distance to one of the approved supervised injection services.
Distributing Naloxone will not help if people use in secret and alone as they cannot administer Naloxone on themselves. Even effective anti-stigma campaigns will not fully eliminate the misconception of the person who uses substances as someone who lacks willpower and has a problem that is entirely self-inflicted. Problematic substance use is still seen as a moral failing and not as a health issue.
What would it take to prove my dire perdiction wrong and reverse the deadly trend?
Instead of a patchwork of federal and provincial initiatives, a clear and coordinated national strategy with levels of investment at least equal (per person) to those made during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s—when half as many people died in peak years as did in the opioid crisis in 2017 alone —is required. Such a strategy should be guided by people with lived experience, affected families, and be based on the best available evidence. This evidence tells us that we need to stop criminalizing substance use and start investing in prevention, treatment, and harm reduction as Portugal has done and Norway plans to do. Portugal has since reduced its overdose rate to 6 deaths per million of population, while the US is at 185. Canadian data from March 2017 shows 78 per million nationally, however, the hardest hit provinces and territories are much higher: BC's rate is 200 per million, the Yukon at 160 and Alberta at 138. These rates are not adjusted for year end numbers.
As the experience of European countries shows, decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use will help end the stigmatization of substance use and allow users to come forward and seek help through harm reduction measures and treatment. Decriminalization will also permit an open discussion about substance use that will lead to truly innovative approaches and more research findings.
Decriminalization is a bold step that our current government has been unwilling to take. In our most recent campaign we have asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “Do Something”, starting with acknowledging the magnitude of the opioid crisis and initiating a national strategy. So far, he has not responded to hundreds of Canadian families who have sent photos of loved ones who have died or purple hearts for individuals who are struggling. His silence is deafening and a slap in the face of those who have suffered so much.
As a society we should not accept the deaths of thousands of Canadians in the prime of their lives as the new normal. As families we will not be silent and stand by while our loved ones die from preventable causes. We should not have to start the New Year without our sons, daughters, brothers, fathers, mothers, relatives, and friends.
Individuals struggling with substances use have a right to access appropriate medical services and deserve the same level of support and care offered to those with other health conditions. We call on the Prime Minister, and all levels of government, to “Do Something”, to match investment in this crisis to its magnitude and to take the bold step of decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use.
Petra Schulz, Co-founder of Moms Stop The Harm, Edmonton, AB January 1, 2018
See results of our follow-up survey below campaign photos. More than 450 photos were sent to the Prime Minister, who so far has not replied to anyone.
Dear friends, fellow advocates and drug policy reformers,
We have all been feeling the pain of the rising death toll in the opioid crisis, as numbers of families in mourning grow. The actions of all levels of government are inadequate considering the magnitude of the problem. We need to see leadership at the top, starting with our prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Over the past months he has spoken on a number of issues, but has been relatively silent regarding this crisis and did not cover this topic at all at town halls this summer, that some MSTH members had a chance to attend.
To help him recognize how this impacts Canadian families we propose the following initiative, which we call the Do Something Prime Minister Photo Campaign starting on November 13, 2017 – on-going after that:
- Take a photo of your loved one (4x6, 5x7, or 8x10 – bigger is better)
- If you do not have a photo cut out a purple heart from construction paper and proceed. Also use a purple heart if you are sending on behalf of a person with living experience.
- On the back write
- their name [NOTE: If you are not able to use the actual name, chose a name, every person counts]; and the year they were born and the year they died.
- cause of death (e.g. accidental fentanyl poisoning, overdose, from substance use, using a drug that was laced with fentanyl, substance use related suicide, overdosed on prescription medication, etc.) and
- your relationship (son/daughter, brother/sister, spouse/partner, grandson/daughter, niece/nephew etc.). [NOTE: Multiple people can send a photo of the same person, illustrating how many are affected by each death]
- If you wish and have room, add a slogan. First, we tried to pick one, but our strengths as advocates is in our diversity, so write your own or chose from one of these: The Deaths Must Stop! - Stop the deaths! - Do something Prime Minister! (quoting Zoe Dodd) - How many more need to die? - Stop the deaths - save the future of your country - Why Are Canadian Children Dying? This Must Stop! - Somebody's Someone - Anyone’s Child - Empty Chairs - A Picture- More than a thousand words
- Use a regular envelope and write your return address on the envelope. You may also add that to the photo, so you can get a reply from the PM office.
- Send the envelope to [NOTE: no postage needed]: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Office of the Prime Minister 80 Wellington Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
- Please take a photo of your project and post it to one of our Facebook pages or email to Petra Schulz, so we can add the photo here.
Feel free to share this as widely as possible!
The families of MSTH
Here are the results of our follow-up survey, conducted in January 2018:
LOOKING BACK < MOVING FORWARD>
The 'Do Something Prime Minister' advocacy campaign was a success in many ways. More than 400 letters were sent to the office of the PM by MSTH Members and allies from other groups. And after that, 118 people filled out the survey to gather information and thoughts about the advocacy initiative. Thankyou to everyone who participated. Below are some of the common themes and suggestions that were offered about the campaign and some ideas on what MSTH could do next. Let us know what you think. (If you don't know about this advocacy campaign, a link in Comments will take you to that information)
THE SURVEY: Common Themes and Follow up Suggestions
COMMON THEMES OF COMMENTS OFFERED THROUGH THE SURVEY
1. Was a good way to get family and friends involved in the issue
2. Mail in campaign caught people’s attention on social media ( as opposed to on line messaging or petition.)
3. Got good media coverage which in turn may influence public education and understanding, empathy.
4. ‘do something’ message was weak. Rather than ‘do something’ could it have been ‘here’s what you need to do.’ Could have included information and action plan from MSTH on what the Prime Minister needs to do
5. disappointed that there has been no response from the PM office yet.
6. Campaign focused specifically on opioids/fentanyl. Could have included other drugs such as cocaine, meth, crack, ecstasy…given that a good number of the loved ones of MSTH members did not use opioids.
7. The campaign could have included images of those loved ones who are still alive and in recovery, not just those who have died.
8. A person who has worked on advocacy campaigns advised that putting the hearts on the outside of the envelopes was a mistake. Those receiving the letters might have just put them all in one pile and not opened them (yet).
9. The tone needs to be just right. “Research has shown that expressing anger and laying blame does not work. It puts people on the defensive and has the opposite of the desired effect…
The assumption should be that if they (the person(s) receiving the messages) were aware, surely they would be doing something about it.
In other words, instead of accusing them of inaction, you make it sound like you are giving them the benefit of the doubt... so you explain the situation to them.”
Suggestions for the Focus of Future MSTH initiatives:
1. Keep up the pressure on the office of the Prime Minister and send the key message(s) c/c to others such as Health Minister, MPs.
2. Education for front line workers
--doctors need more education on substance use
--emergency rooms need to be more responsive to those in distress due to mental illness and substance use
--anti stigma education for front line workers.
3. Education for youth
--have bereaved parents speak to youth groups.
4. A Campaign directed at Provinces, Members of Legislature given the Provinces have a lot of say in where Health dollars are spent.
--Tip: when mailing send Express post with tracking number
5. Campaign focusing on anti stigma
-increase understanding the addiction is a health issue.
(note: Both B.C. and Alberta have just released their anti-stigma campaign. Health Canada will be releasing their anti-stigma campaign shortly)
Leslie McBain, September 14, 2017
It is difficult in this complex crisis to know which way to go first. But as Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH) has always stated, first, we need to save lives. We know that a dead drug user will never recover. And we know the solutions.
Why are people dying? Simple - it is the toxic black-market drug supply.
Why does that black market exist? Because of the money and because of bad drug policy that drives people into the black market.
How do we rid ourselves of the major part of the black market? Supply safe drugs to those with substance use disorder (people living with addiction).
How do we provide safe drugs in the face of a federal government that refuses to consider decriminalization and regulation? We look at the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver as an example.
How do we encourage those with substance use disorder to go into effective and proven treatment? Provide multi path, low barrier, rapid access treatments combined with housing first strategies for those who are unstably housed. We must build the system and ensure that it works. Provide connection, empathy and humane treatment to those people addicted to drugs.
Sadly providing connection, conversation, and anti stigma community dialogue will have little impact on the death rates without the previous steps (safe supply and rapid low barrier access to effective treatment).
I know people will say, 'but we can only do what we can do”. True, but with courage, and passion, we can push the envelope. We must begin to think out of the box immediately. As the CAPUD (The Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs) says: #theytalkwedie. It is a slogan that comes to my mind every day.
Our actions must be guided by what is most important. First we have to stop the drug related deaths. We need to get naloxone on in the hand of every drug user, train people on the street, in bars, in educational institutions and every environment where people may be at risk in regular, widely advertised sessions in public places. Provide targeted intense messaging about not using alone, knowing about overdose and how to respond, and about the 911 emergency law. Saves lives and then look at housing and access to treatment.
Sorry to rant, but it is very frustrating to hear more talk, more research, more indirect, soft solutions to the overdose epidemic. In Canada more than 2,816 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, almost 1000 in BC alone. We must put our energies where they will make an immediate impact. Only the government bodies can provide the infrastructure. It comes down to creative thinking, courage, and funding! But first and foremost, we must save the lives of everyone's children.
August 31, 2017
Tansi…Hello and Good afternoon,
I would like to start first and foremost by acknowledging that we are gathering here today on treaty 6 territory on which out of respect for the land and its people must be honored and respected.
For those of you who don’t know me my name is Shanell Twan I am a proud member of AAWEAR [Alberta Addicts Who Educate And Advocate Responsibily] which is one of the co- host Organizations for today’s event.
We are Gathered here today FOR International Overdose Awareness day and to Acknowledge That We fight for those we love and have lost. The harms being caused by the war on drugs can no longer be ignored – so we are calling for more humane drug policies that support, and don’t punish, people who use substances. It is time to leave behind the harmful politics, ideologies and prejudices – and prioritize the health and welfare of those affected. I am here today as a concerned Albertan and an indigenous woman who values the recent truth and reconciliation events that happened across our country. I believe it is time for us to reconcile with the truth and i feel that one of my truths is that as indigenous people we are often overrepresented in a variety of systems: the legal and justice systems, health care, and social service systems.
I find it disheartening that substance use has long been viewed as a criminal and moral issue rather than a health issue. In reality, it is an unpleasant fact that has touched many families. Mine included. I feel it is here that a tectonic shift must take place…treating someone who uses substances must be seen as a bonified health issue.
Because I currently see a disconnect between all systems with class and race often playing a role in how we view substance use or addiction. I feel that people who use substances should be viewed as just that people rather than offenders. Law enforcement and public health should have the same goal of wanting people to do good and stay alive to make a different choice on another day.
We are desperately in need of supervised injection services to help decrease the high number of overdoses we are seeing in communities across our country. When substances are used inside of a health setting and substance use becomes decriminalized people then come into contact with nurses, social and peer support workers that are there to provide them with voluntary drug tapering strategies, education, advocacy, health and social interventions available to them if they so choose. I see a valuable opportunity for us to take a stand on the forefront of this overdose crisis, and provide people using substances with services that will prevent further loss of life due to overdose. Because as it was said in Ottawa at the Canadian drug future forum: ’’the drug supply in Canada has gone toxic’’!
We should all know by now that we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. We know that mental health factors contribute to substance use and that mental health sufferers are twice as likely to use substances that being said i feel that we need to look around the country and maybe even the world to see what’s working well and look at applying some of those ideas here and now (coughs-like Portugal’s model). Because the death toll rise in spite of current actions and at best a glacial pace is what things seem to be moving forward at. What evidence based things can we look too… where other interventions have failed heroin assisted therapy has had great successes Portugal even greater successes.
At ungass2016- 22 governments from around the world advocated for all drug decriminalization here is a small part of a statement from the idpc- international drug policy consortium-…” the gold standard of decriminalization is the removal of all punishment for drug use and the provision of voluntary health and social services ’’the sad reality is our current drug laws and policies have failed us. I believe herein lies an opportunity for us to show some leadership.
We need to show good models and then scale them up building an evidence base that demonstrates what works safely and effectively to save lives …because the government doesn’t hold all the answers and neither do we. This is why evidence must form the basis of all policies in place. I feel that we are at a crossroads where I think we must acquire the knowledge to build upon societal support to expand upon these services.
I urge you to push pass ideology, prejudice, and fear to step up to help our citizens. Let’s roll up sleeve take bold steps and help people, so no more families have to lose a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a sister or brother. Or in my family’s case an aunt and two cousins.
We need our governments to make evidence based decisions when it comes to drug policies. We need progressive evidence based policies. We need you to take the ideology out of it and only make evidence based decisions. I do believe we need an integrative knowledge exchange about best practices from across our country, and maybe even the world, we need support from all levels of government to help build upon this knowledge base so we may integrate and facilitate the effective use of this knowledge into practice. To the provincial & federal government i implore you. The evidence is there use it!!
On February 21 2017, a first national day of action was held across Canada by CAPUD to demand concrete actions to put an end to the war on drugs, remove barriers to health care, and implement policies that are informed by real life experiences of people who use drugs and Service providers. At that time, we met Government Officials to share Our thoughts with them and forward our list of CAPUD’s federal demands: in no particular order they are
- End the War on Drugs. In the short-term, decriminalize possession of all drugs. In the long term, full legalization and regulation of drugs.
- Grant immediate exemptions to all supervised injection service (SIS) applicants and/or define them and any future SIS as health services implemented solely by provincial authorities;
- Create a specific harm reduction initiative as part of the new Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, to support, expand and adequately fund harm reduction programs and strategies including explicit funding for the development of drug user-based organizations and advocacy groups.
- Remove barriers and increase access to opioid substitution therapy including access to prescription heroin.
- Implement harm reduction in prisons: needle exchange programs, increasing access to opioid substitution therapy and continuation after release
We should be identifying smart policies and implementing them to apply solutions to save lives. I can honestly tell you the vast majority of deaths I am seeing are related to illicit drugs, Fentanyl and Carfentenyl, and now even cocaine and methamphetamine can contain these. I can also honestly tell you that i have attended numerous funerals in the past few months. And i am now at a point where I have to acknowledge my own personal experiences with tackling issues related to my own mental health, because as of lately I feel as though I’ve been plagued by depression. Thoughts and memories of those we’ve lost leave me holding on to hope, hoping those who hold the power can and will do something to help. Now is the time to remember, it is also the time to act!
Hyi hyi ..thank you
Manitoba MSTH leaders Chris Dobbs and Arlene Kolb were invited to attend a meeting with the Federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott in Winnipeg on July 22, 2017. Here is Chris Dobbs' summary of the event.
With over 30 people in attendance the moms nervously waited their turn to speak to the Minister. Arlene started with a question: "You want to know what I want? I want my son back! All I have is his hat, and his ashes, I smell his hat everyday to be close to him", as she picks up the hat and smells it.....peoples eyes welled up with tears. She stated clearly that we need to stop the stigma and we need treatment. I then spoke about Adam and who he was, and that he was not his addiction. I talked about our lack of resources and how shameful it is that we have no medical detox or no protocol for our Doctors and emergency health services, no protocol to really help those suffering with the disease of opiate addiction. I went on to read a letter my son wrote, a letter begging me to help him and not give up on him, and that he was scared. Not a dry eye in the house. I questioned whether anyone would put their child in the Main Street project, the only available place to detox. A place filled with both people addicted to alcohol and those addicted to drugs. You bunk up with six others, all sick and one was even a drug dealer. Everyone shook their heads. I also asked Max Waddell, from Winnipeg Police Service, as he spoke to picking up persons who are overdosing, what happens to them, what do you do with them? All they can do is take them to ER, check them send them on their way. I asked Minister Geortzen about the recent approval of suboxone and what Doctors are administering it. He admitted that this is a problem, getting Doctors trained to work with suboxone .
Lastly, I related my own experience of 14 years ago, a heart attack. I mentioned that we have protocols and I was treated immediately, given medicines, monitored in hospital for a week, sent to rehabilitation, counselling and follow up every six months which continues to this day! We need protocols to treat people dependant on substances who seeking help. They should not be treated differently than anyone else in the health system.
Helen and I had a tour of the newly completed Foundry last night!
The initial presentation on arrival in the foyer is an atmosphere that is inviting and calm. Green, turquoise and blue hues have a relaxing effect, plus there is an abundance of light creating an airy atmosphere, not an enclosed, (institutional), feel.
The Foundry will be the home to a dozen different agencies. The key, of course, is to provide early intervention, diagnosis and support before serious, chronic issues arise. There are several physician exam rooms for GP's to assess physical /sexual health of the youth. To date, four General practitioners have committed to part time hours. The facility will also house psychiatrists, counsellors, paediatricians, RN's and various support personnel.
The space is comprised of counselling rooms, dictating stations (for consultations), staff lunch rooms, two conference rooms and a family room.
The Foundry also has an amazing kitchen area for youth-it will also be used to teach cooking classes- promoting healthy independence. Staff will move into their offices and work spaces slowly throughout July, and will see their patients at the Foundry. August will slowly transition to walk In Traffic and referrals. (From schools, physicians, parents, walk ins).
The Foundry mandate that a slow/soft opening will allow them to ensure all protocols are in place and properly executed. They truly want this to be perfectly deployed and a positive experience for all.
Who is the Foundry?
The Foundry is a "one stop" service provider for youth age 12-24. A variety of services will be available to youth, all under one roof.
Family support, youth and family navigation Services, health care, sexual health, mental health counselling, substance misuse counselling, housing support, employment assistance, free courses and groups and specialized services!!!!!!
All services are free and confidential.
Making mental health a priority for our youth not only aids them and their families, but creates strong supportive communities where are children are valued.
I am optimistic and excited to see the Foundry lead the Okanagan, and the Interior-perhaps even the province and the country, in promoting this service for our kids!
I believe they will have a strong voice In educating the general populace and in decreasing, or eliminating, stigma and shame.
The Foundry staff are a strong, youthful, innovative and committed team!
I am excited to watch them develop, morph and grow!
ALL LIVES MATTER
TOGETHER WE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE
This is the short story of our only child, our son Jordan, his life and his death. It is also about hindsight. Hindsight can be a learning tool—for me and perhaps for you, too.
Jordan was a happy baby, inquisitive and active. As a newborn, he slept only about 10 hours in 24. On the day he was eight months old, he walked for the first time, to the delight of all. He didn’t stop challenging himself physically all his life.
He never required a lot of sleep, which was tiring for mom and dad, but his young life was full of travel, adventure, joy, friendships and family. We felt blessed to have such smooth sailing. The part-time daycare and preschool Jordan attended from age two until public school suited his high energy.
We made an informed decision to keep Jordan in the Montessori kindergarten an extra year as he was so rambunctious. His focus on tasks was not thought by his teachers to be at a Grade One level. But he was happy and sociable. He loved his teachers, and the varied structure suited him.
Jordan continued to be funny and popular and became a leader of his peers. This sounds lovely, but there was also a worrisome side. His antics disrupted the classroom, his reading skills were below average, and he was not a team player. By Grade 5, an older and wise teacher suggested we have him tested for ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and dyslexia. He had low levels of both. We employed a tutor, and his teachers gave him the time to run around the school when he needed to release some energy. His report cards were just above average, so while we were concerned, we weren’t overly worried.
Other quirks seemed small at the time—Jordan couldn’t wear socks that had a seam in them, he couldn’t eat an apple that wasn’t quite the right texture, he would sit on the floor of the shower and let the warm water run over him until we intervened or the hot water ran out. There were smells that he couldn’t tolerate. He had episodes of rapid blinking that he couldn’t control. He had occasional brief rages at home that consisted of yelling in intense frustration over a seemingly insignificant thing. Again, while we were concerned, we didn’t think professional help was needed.
And then, high school! We all know the pitfalls and perils of these years. Kids from our small southern Gulf Island in BC take a water taxi to attend the Gulf Islands Secondary School on one of the larger islands. This meant that I could not be as involved with the school, and sometimes Jordan had to stay overnight with another family. Up until this point, Jordan, his dad Carl and I had been close and happy. But now we began to see changes. Jordan started to party with his friends—typical except for the copious amounts of pot and alcohol that he and his friends consumed. He was open about this with us, and occasionally took us up on our offer of the no-questions-asked ride home.
But you can’t keep a teenager locked up because you think he might get drunk or smoke pot. You can’t follow him around or text him every 15 minutes to find out what he is up to. I did what I could: I talked to him about how pot affects the developing brain, and about the dangers of alcohol addiction. I printed out articles and left them on his bed. We watched him closely, and we hoped that this was just a stage he was going through.
But it was not. By age 19, Jordan was an alcoholic and a cigarette smoker. He was also using cocaine. He soon asked us for help; we got him into a rehab facility for what was to be a three-month stay. He walked out after six weeks, declaring that six weeks was all he needed, that he was clean and sober and could stay that way.
He was wrong, as many of us are at the age when we think we know everything.
The next three years were torture for my husband and me. Jordan bounced around from our community to Vancouver to the Cayman Islands, to Ottawa, to Mexico and home again. He was on an adventure laced with drugs and alcohol. He was dealing drugs. He loved the fast lifestyle, the cool clothes and being the life of the party. Miraculously, he was never arrested.
Throughout this period, we know, from anecdotes told by his friends after his death and from what we already knew about our son, that Jordan remained kind and connected. He championed the underdog, he helped those less fortunate than himself, and he loved children and animals. And he stayed connected to us, by phoning, texting, even bursting through the back door unexpectedly. But we saw the effects of drugs and alcohol—in his eyes, in his thin body, in the lies he told us about money or his whereabouts. He was constantly texting, and we now know that he was “conducting business”—dealing drugs.
Jordan returned to our small community in his twenty-second year with a steady girlfriend, and he started his own small business. We were hopeful, although we knew substance abuse was still a problem. Then Jordan injured his back on a job, and our family doctor prescribed the highly addictive opioid oxycodone. A few weeks had passed before Jordan told me that the doctor had prescribed him a hundred pills. I was shocked; I made an appointment with the doctor and told him that Jordan was at risk of addiction. But because Jordan was over the age of consent, and because the doctor seemed not to consider my advice, I had no say in Jordan’s care. This was the beginning of the end—and the first failure of the medical system in Jordan’s case.
Over the next six months, the doctor prescribed oxycodone in higher and higher doses. Jordan became completely focused on obtaining and using this drug. We watched helplessly as his business declined, his girlfriend struggled, and he developed other health and sleep problems.
I spoke to the doctor again and told him that Jordan was now addicted to the drug. The doctor became angry and defensive. He decided to stop prescribing the drug, but he did not offer any support for withdrawal and recovery from addiction. Looking back, I believe he was simply ignorant in the matter. One cannot just “quit.” Withdrawal is so painful that some find it impossible to go through. The physician’s ignorance and oversight was the second failure of the medical system.
At this point, now firmly addicted to opioids, Jordan began buying “Oxy” on the street. He needed more and more money, and slid right back into the world of drug dealing.
Finally he realized that life had become untenable. He knew he needed to enter a detox facility, and we helped him get there. After 12 days, he emerged clean of opioids but still faced a very painful withdrawal. We could find no post-detox support, no physician willing to prescribe suboxone (a drug that Jordan had researched and which is now widely and successfully used in withdrawal and recovery), and no psychiatrist who could take on Jordan’s case. This lack of post-detox support was system failure number three.
Seven weeks after he left the detox facility, and in a bad state of withdrawal, Jordan relapsed. On February 4, 2014, at the age of 25, our only child died alone of an accidental overdose.
In hindsight, we can now see that all the little things—the high energy, the quirkiness, the sensitivities, the risk-taking, the problems with focus and dyslexia, Jordan’s overcompensation for hidden anxiety—led our son to self-medicate. But we couldn’t put it all together at the time. And now he is gone.
As I now advocate for drug policy changes in government, I understand that the medical system was not ready for the recent sudden increase in addiction and overdose. Doctors have historically received almost no training in addictions and recovery, and that is now changing. Opioid prescription and management is becoming an integral part of medical school.
Advice is a hard thing to hand out: every child is different. I can only say to other parents, Be aware, be non-judgemental, and give your children credit for being intelligent. Try to leave anger out of discussions. Your children need your wisdom, not your fear. And they need your love. They really need your love. They also need information on how to avoid dangerous drugs, and they need to know that if they do decide to use drugs and alcohol, they should never use them when they are on their own. Make sure your child’s school is including talks on drug safety in the curriculum.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but it can be a hard thing to live with. I hope that our hindsight can be your foresight.
Leslie McBain, May 2017
If I use the word, addict, many minds will conjure up images of a filthy toothless, dead eyed, man or women hiding in a back alley with a needle in their arm or begging for a few dollars on a street corner.I tell my story as a mother with lived experience to alter that image, to share the human side of drug misuse. To encourage you to believe although they have made a few bad choices, they do not choose this way of life. No one aspires to the living hell of addiction.
I have lost two sons to overdose. I cannot even begin to tell you about living life without your children, long nights laying awake, wishing apon wish to see them, hear them, hug them. The day after day reality that this will never happen.
My boys stories are quite different. Rian after 8 years of abstinence was hit by a truck while driving his motorcycle. He sustained horrific injuries to his leg. For three years, many surgeries,and countless prescription drugs, he battled chronic pain, depression and anxiety.
On August 21,2011, Rian died alone in his bed of respiratory failure due to an overdose of narcotics and benzodiazepines. I found him the following morning.
Tyler’s story is more relevant to the current opioid epidemic. Ty was living a charmed life. He was smart, witty, industrious, athletic, extremely funny and totally fearless. He had startling good looks and things came easily to him. He was a true adventurer. He climbed and went scuba diving in the most amazing mountains and waters in the world. He loved to travel and eventually settled in Thailand where he quickly picked up the language and soon had built himself a successful business and a happy life. Here he fathered his first child, Mac.
Tyler was caring and kind with a big soft generous heart . He was hailed a hero in the Canadian press for saving a drowning Thai boatman in the devastating Tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand on Boxing Day in 2004. That was not the first or the last time with no regard for his own safety, he saved another’s life.
After the Tsunami, with may friends lost and his business destroyed, Tyler brought his family home to Canada. We have no idea what impact that Tsunami had on Tyler’s mental state, but thought he was exhibiting signs of post traumatic stress. Starting over again was not easy, but Ty adapted quickly and in no time had his own masonry business.
In 2010, Tyler ruptured his a chillies playing football.. He underwent surgery and was sent home with a prescription of Oxycontin. With all the other components most likely in place, he developed a dependency on opioids. Tyler did not cope well with Rian’s death. Shortly after, his drug abuse escalated to heroin, it was far cheaper and much easier to obtain than oxycontin.
As a family we were launched into the search for help. We spoke to physicians, psychiatrists, outreach workers, treatment centres, RCMP and even to members of the clergy. Along with drug misuse, mental health issues develop. Personally, I believe addiction and mental health issues are dance partners, who leads depends on the day and the circumstances. With large gaping holes in the system, there were no clear answers, no concurrent care,so our lives became riddled with trauma and fear.
Totally unqualified, the spare bedroom in our home now became an emergency room, a detox, a rehab, a homeless shelter, a jail cell and on the worst of days, a war zone. Countless nights I sat on the sofa with my son’s head in my lap and we both cried for the man he had once been, the one we longed to bring back. Supporting his addiction, Tyler broke his own moral code and his shame and self loathing only added to the relentless drive to use.
Although treatment centres were virtually impossible to access, Tyler tried a number of ways to become drug free. In December of 2016 he joined a 12 step program. On January 13, Ty returned from a recovery meeting. He was in high spirits, even optimistic. He came around my bed and taking me in a big bear hug, he told me how much he loved me and how he could not live without me in his life, he then did the same with my husband.
The next day we left for work, for the first time in ages he was sleeping peacefully and we did not wake him. At work that morning I received an e-mail from an old friend of Rian’s. I had not spoken to Betty in well over a year, but she wrote, I am not sure what compels me to write to you today, I needed to let you know I feel Rian’s spirit so strongly and feel he is right there beside you.
As I left work that day, a fire engine with sirens blaring roared around me into on-coming traffic and flew up Pandosy Street. I ended up following that truck and when it stopped in front of Tyler’s ex-wife’s apartment, my heart plummeted.
I was forced to remain in the hallway outside the apartment as first responders worked feverishly to re-start my son’s heart. Finally they let me in and for the second time I layed down with my dead boy and whispered things in his ear I knew he could no longer hear.
I will never know what triggered Tyler to use that day, he died from a pure fentanyl disguised as heroin overdose. I try to convince myself that Rian did come to guide his brother to a safer happier place.
In a text to me a few weeks before he died, Ty wrote, Mom I just need you to know. It took me weeks to figure out it”s meaning and will haunt me until I die. What he wanted me to know was that he loved us all more than enough, but alone without the appropriate help, he knew he could not win this battle. Our constant messaging, well if you only wanted to stop, if you would just try, were so damn far off the mark. The standard advice of, he needs to hit rock bottom, or you need to practice tough love….I now see as utterly ridiculous. If we do not see the total destruction of ones life, the loss of family and friends, the inability to hold a job or support oneself, the never ending quest to stick a needle in your arm two or three times a day, just to escape your sad reality for a few hours is not rock bottom, we are blind. and as far as tough love,well the toughest love you will ever see is that of a mother trying to save her addicted child.
In February of 2016, I became a member of Moms Stop The Harm MSTH is a network of Canadian mothers and families whose loved ones have died from substance misuse. Our network calls for an end to the failed war on drugs. We envision a new approach based on reducing harm, where people who use drugs are treated with respect, compassion and support.
I am often asked, how do you do it, keep going, keep advocating. I do it for Rian and I do it for Tyler. I do it for Tyler’s children, for surely with their short history they are at high risk for mental heath and drug misuse. I do it to reduce the shame and stigma that surround addiction. To bring awareness and perhaps prevention. To help society recognize that these are medical issues, not moral failings. To have you all see it can happen in the best of families to the nicest people.
I can only imagine what you as emergency physicians are faced with on a daily basis. Hopefully my message will stay with you and remind you, they are not here by choice and that they have a Mother waiting fearfully for you to do what she has not been able to, for you to save her child. Whatever you are to learn here today, I implore you to implement it quickly. As you know, recent statistics show that in 2017 we are on track to lose 1300 people in our province to overdose.
Let’s abolish the stigmatizing word, addict. Let’s see them all as suffering human beings and let’s try without judgement to help them.
Whistler, BC, June 3, 2017
It’s hard to imagine that a year has passed since May 21, 2016, when I received the news that is every parent’s worst nightmare. I was told over the phone by the RCMP that my only child, Robby, had passed away from an overdose.
He was only 24, and a week later we learned from the coroner that he had died from an accidental fentanyl overdose.
Losing a child to an overdose is no different than losing a child to a disease such as cancer, or to a vehicle accident, or violence. You have joined a club that you never planned or wanted to be part of. Suddenly, the empathy you have felt for other parents’ losses over the years has become a real and tangible thing in your own life.
Your heart, mind and body are shocked into accepting the reality that your child will no longer walk through your door, sit at family dinners, send you daily texts, or share their hopes and dreams for their future. The pain of losing a child is like no other. I’ve experienced losses in my life — my grandparents, my parents and an ugly divorce — but nothing in life prepared me for this kind of pain.
What is different about losing a child to an overdose? It’s the layers that unravel after your child is gone. Every part of your being as a parent yearns to protect your child starting at that glorious moment of birth. You have invested years supporting him through his struggles and have tirelessly worked through many challenges, advocating for supports and services — ever hopeful for recovery, ever hopeful for your child’s wellness.
You find your mind reviewing every conversation you had with your child. What didn’t I say? What could I have done more of? Why didn’t I sense something was wrong?
After losing Robby, I felt compelled to connect with other families who have experienced a similar loss. I joined Moms Stop the Harm, a Canada-wide network of moms and families who have all lost someone to an overdose. Sadly, each week we welcome new members as fentanyl leaves behind its deadly wake of deaths across our nation. I bravely share Robby’s story, and I play whatever role I can in supporting a call to action in light of this overdose crisis.
One year later, and the deaths due to fentanyl continue at an unprecedented rate. Despite initial measures implemented by our government, there is little change in the monthly statistics. It is the recreational users and those like my son, who use substances in the privacy of their homes, who are making the headlines each week.
Clearly, the initial measures are not affecting these individuals; this speaks volumes as to what is lacking in our approach to addiction. Clearly, it will take a brave and bold political will to stem the heartbreaking loss of so many individuals in our province, and our nation.
Countries such as Portugal have led the way for us. The evidence is there to guide those who delegate funding to this issue. This aspect of addiction really is about priorities. So what is my dream for the future?
- Our approach to addiction needs to change from a criminal-justice focus to a public-health approach. Individuals struggling with addiction have the right to proper medical care and deserve the same level of support and treatment options as anyone else.
- Free access to naloxone in all provinces.
- Early identification, intervention and prevention supports (mental health and addiction) must be developed at a middle/high school level to better support educators, families and youth.
- Medically supervised drugs such as heroin should be approved to improve the health and safety for those with long-term drug-addiction challenges.
- The stigma around drug addiction must end. Uneducated and uninformed opinions only serve to prevent people from getting the help they need. Overcoming stigma can be a major step forward in a person’s journey toward recovery.
What is it like to lose a child due to overdose? You go forward in life because you really don’t have a choice. It’s not about bravery or coping well. Like other bereaved parents, you soon recognize that you will carry this pain for a lifetime.
Time does not make the empty space less empty. You learn to pick up the pieces and move forward, but your life will never be the same.
Victoria, BC, April 24, 2018
A coalition of B.C. families whose loved ones have died from substance use are calling on provincial party leaders to commit to fully investing revenue generated from the taxation and regulation of cannabis into substance use prevention and treatment.
In an open letter delivered to party leaders today, the family groups requested that 100 per cent of tax revenue received by the province from the sale of cannabis and after regulatory expenses are accounted for be directed to address the public health emergency declared last April in response to substance use overdoses and deaths.
“Canada’s plan to tax and regulate the adult use of cannabis will create a new source of revenue that can and must be invested by the province to address substance use,” the letter states.
The federal government recently introduced legislation that would tax and regulate the adult use of cannabis in Canada. The amount of tax revenue that would be generated is unknown, but a report published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2012 found that the cannabis market in B.C. alone could be worth $500-million annually.
“The opioid epidemic and the problems of addiction and drug related death in general are a set of incredibly complex problems. There is no one solution. All of the solutions lie in evidence-based research and concrete actions. We have the human resources to do this – what we need is the money. Net tax revenue from cannabis sales is where the new money is. It must be used in solving problems of substance use.”
Leslie McBain - Moms Stop The Harm
Leslie is the mother of Jordan Miller, who died of overdose on February 4, 2014
“Today’s fentanyl crisis is just the tip of an iceberg which has been growing for many years. From Grief to Action was founded as a group of parents and family members of people struggling with addiction to drugs in 1999 when the then-coroner was calling drug deaths a medical emergency. We have been working ever since to increase the amount of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation available in this province. Although some things have improved we still have month-long waiting lists for treatment, a woeful lack of access to psychiatric expertise, a complete lack of services for concurrent disorders, and a health care system where addiction is the bottom of the list for funding.”
Nichola Hall - From Grief to Action
Nichola has two sons who have been on methadone for several years and are still struggling with addiction issues
“It would be grossly irresponsible for the provincial and federal governments to not allocate the taxes received from the sale of legal marijuana to the care and treatment of our substance users. There is no better way to commemorate the lives of the many sons and daughters we have loss due to the opioid crisis than wisely allocating this revenue.”
Jennifer Woodside - Voice of the Family
Jennifer is the mother of Dylan, who died of fentanyl overdose on April 4, 201
“The fentanyl crisis has affected my family dearly. I lost my 20-year-old son in March 2016 and we lost my youngest son's girlfriend exactly five months later in August 2016 to a fentanyl overdose. Immediate funding is urgently required in order to provide treatment options for those who are addicted. We do not have the luxury of time to wait because the fentanyl addiction will kill those people waiting to get treatment and help.
Michelle Jansen - The Brandon Jansen Foundation
Michelle is the mother of Brandon, who died of overdose while in rehab
Leslie McBain, Pender Island, BC
From April 4 to 6, 2017, I was in Ottawa to attend the Drug Futures Forum, a conference around the topic of how drug policy might and should look in ten years’ time. Many of the attendees and many of the speakers are known to me as the Canadian network of people working for harm reduction measures is relatively small. But they are a powerful and educated bunch.
Because the scene around illicit drugs is so very dire right now, much focus was on the immediate situation. It seems that everyone knows that we need to pursue decriminalization, accessible prescription heroin, safe consumption sites, legalization and regulation of cannabis as well as eventually all other drugs.
Also, it is agreed that we need further research in all areas. The problem is convincing the legislators to change policies to reflect what we know to be true. This necessitates high level research, which in turn takes funding. I was able to meet privately with Health Minister Jane Philpott as well as ADM Hilary Geller and MP Elizabeth May. Each meeting had a similar outcome. These legislators and politicians are on board with harm reduction, but feel that the Canadian electorate is still immersed in the stigmatized and ill-informed thinking about addiction and people who are drug dependent.
Speaking on behalf of all of us, I suggested a national anti-stigma campaign, and on Lorna Thomas’s idea of creating a grief support system for families who have lost loved one. The Minister was interested in both. I will continue to be the polite but persistent squeaky wheel.
“…on Jessie's Birthday, we were honored in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. My M.L.A. James Allum read out a Members Statement. It was a beautiful tribute to my son and for all the difficult work that I have done. He wrote a very personal and moving speech. It was quite an honor and very emotional. My son now will forever have his name in the house on March 20th his Birthday. The whole house, which I have met a few, no matter what Party they belong to all know our story and applauded knowing that this has been very hard and our grateful for my efforts. Fentanyl and opioids are touching all families from all walks of life and people are scared. I was given a beautiful plaque with what James had read out. Now next year on Jessie's Birthday maybe it won’t be so difficult. Maybe I will think of that day different. It will be about how him and I got a award for all the difficult work and how we maybe saved some lives.
It took me a long time to get my own kit, thankfully not for lack of access but because of the need to overcome my own feelings of guilt fur not having gone to Danny's house that night almost 3 years ago, and for not having known that naloxone existed. As a proponent of this live saving tool
I felt like a bit of a cheat not to have one. Well, I slayed another dragon in my grief process and am now the owner of a kit that I am proud to carry, but hope not to have reason to use. Do you have your own kit? Visit our resources page to find out where you can get your own kit.
From one of the MSTH moms who' s daughters organs were donated after she died from an overdose.
April is Organ Donation Awareness month - many of us who have experienced the tragic loss of a loved one to substance use illness have had to make the very difficult and personal decision to donate their organs. In my daughters case the decision for us to donate her organs helped to save 4 lives. It's a bittersweet and very painful subject for any parent faced with this choice and we are sorry that so many of us are faced with this decision, but it is our reality.
Organ donation is not an easy topic to talk about, but it is an important one to discuss with your family. Tell your family and friends of your wishes to be an organ donor and register your consent by clicking on the link below which has information for all Canadian provinces on how to become an organ donor.
You can help to save a life!
Petra Schulz, April 5, 2017
If you only read one article this month, make it this one please! Fentanyl is just the symptom, while the origin of the crisis has much do do with prescription practices and the lies the makers of Oxycontin used to make billions, while thousands have died. Our son Danny started opioids with prescription drugs he obtained on the illicit market, like many of his now dead peers. Others got the drugs from the Drs. with the same tragic outcome. But as it seems, some execs always find a way to make money, no matter what the "collateral damage is. I object if the "collateral damage" is my son or anyone child. Do you agree that Purdue pharma should be held accountable?
Jayme Saunders, Calgary, AB, February 2016 - Guest blog to MSTH.
I think this is something important to see for those who have not seen it yet. This is a naloxone kit, a kit that can help save a friend, a family member, even a stranger. I have seen dozens of facebook posts about "drug awareness" (you loose your family, your job, your kids because you're WILLING to give these things up) and I call bullshit. I call bullshit on every post out there saying addiction is a choice, that addiction is something you want, that addiction is someones fault. Not one child will ever say "I want to be a drug addict, I want to have my life controlled by substance"; they'll most likely want to be an astronaut, a police officer, a doctor or a rockstar. Not one will want their lives to involve addiction.
What may start out as a choice, or a fun game, quickly escalates into something lacking all choices; crippling judgement, controlling urges. Addicts, for the most part, lack the ability to make rational decisions, sometimes mentally and physically unable to seek the help that they need.
All of this being said lets take a look at the photo posted below. I picked this up for FREE! Yet, after going to my doctor and asking about it she had NO IDEA what I was talking about when I asked where to get a "naloxone kit". After googling it for Alberta added no assistance she wrote me a prescription. Well, it turns out you can pretty well pick them up from any drug store FOR FREE! In a province with so much fentanyl in it WHY THE HELL ISN'T THERE MORE OUT THERE ON THIS?!
What is naloxone? Essentially, it is a possible second chance for that friend, family member or stranger that otherwise would die of an overdose. It works as an OPIOID blocker, and ONLY an opioid blocker. This means that you can inject anyone you think may be overdosing from fentanyl and it wouldn't harm someone that wasn't. This means from the time it takes to wait for medical help you can do something. This means that even if you ARE NOT SURE but you THINK IT MIGHT BE THE CASE you can inject them and it WILL NOT HARM SOMEONE NOT OVERDOSING.
I am proud to carry one of these kits, everyday and everywhere. It's a little bigger then a pen lengthwise and fits in any one of my bags I carry. What's your excuse for not having one?
Don't be reactive. Be proactive.
Last summer I visited the grave of Jordan Miller, the son of my friend Leslie Mcbain on Pender Island and this week she came to Mayne Island and we visited Danny's grave. Both boys died of overdoses in 2014 and both of us never thought we would have to bury a child. We have become such close friends in our grief and our advocacy with Moms Stop The Harm that it is hard to imagine that without losing our sons, we would have never met.
We are united in grief, but also in our fight against the war on drugs that took our boys and against stigma that still prevents people from getting the help they need. Together with Lorna Thomas (son Alex, 2012 by suicide) and Jennifer Woodside (Dylan, 2014 by overdose) and the many other wonderful moms and family members who have joined us since we will continue the fight until our numbers no longer grow as they do now on a daily basis.
Edmonton, March 15, 2017
Dear Minister of Health, Sarah Hoffman,
I was one of the moms who attended the legislature as a guest of David Swann to listen to the emergency debate on the Opioid crisis in Alberta.
Many of the members spoke passionately about this horrific crisis, some shared personal stories and I felt like everyone in the room truly cared. Then I looked down from the gallery and I saw members of your government "surfing the internet", looking at photos, checking out California on google earth, on facebook etc. At this moment my heart sunk and I realized that not everyone did in fact care. They couldn't be bothered to listen to the facts, the statistics or the personal accounts of the devastation that the Opioid crisis is causing. I took unpaid time off of work to attend because I care that so many people are unnecessarily dying every single day in our province. It is very disheartening to know that my tax dollars are paying for members of the government to sit and "surf the internet" while an emergency debate is being held. I took this lack of caring and dismissive attitude personally, because it is personal to me. Opioids have destroyed my family.
I would like to thank you for the steps that already have been taken to address this crisis. Additional medical examiners and naloxone kits are important, however those steps are reactive and not proactive. We need to take measures to prevent people from getting to the point of overdose.
When a substance user is ready to receive treatment, they shouldn't have to wait months to get into a facility. I was tasked with keeping my son alive for 2 months until a bed was available. He also had no choice in what treatment program he thought would work for him. The wait time for the program he wanted to attend was 6 months, and he and I both knew he wouldn't be alive if he had to wait that long. I personally drove him every single day to his drug dealers house to buy his fentanyl to keep him alive for 2 months while he hopelessly waited for help. He knew going in that the 12 step program would not work for him, but it was his only choice. He relapsed 6 weeks after he came home from treatment. 12 step and abstinence based programs only have a 5% success rate. I continue to fight for my son every single day.
I hope that we see more action sooner rather than later, as the death toll keeps rising. I can also hope that more respect is shown by members of the government when discussing health crises and tragedies.
Edmonton, March 5, 2017
Lorna Thomas, Susan Robble and Regan Magnus from MomsStopTheHarm, Amy Graves (Get Prescription Drugs Off the Street) and Rosalind Davis (Changing the Face of Addiction) and Shanell Twan (Streetworks) were at the Alberta Legislature. They were there to listen to an emergency debate about the government's fourth-quarter Opiods and Substances of Misuse report which reveals continuing escalation of the #opioidcrisis.
Calgary MLA Dr. David Swann called for an emergency debate on how to address/ redress the situation in Alberta. Dr. Swann's call for an emergency debate was granted.
Dr. Swann and an amazing number of MLA's (20 in all) representing all five parties (Liberal, Wildrose, Conservative, NDP, Alberta Party) spoke passionately, respectfully, and often personally about the opioid overdose epidemic. Many of them acknowledged our presence, offered condolences to those of us whose child/partner are gone due to a drug related death, and thanked us for being there in the gallery to give witness to the debate. The discussion proceeded for 3 1/2 hours, a half hour longer than planned.
All the MLA's who spoke used 'our language' (harm reduction, safe injection sites, evidence- based treatment, 'keep them alive today so they can make a better decision tomorrow') which was reflective of how educated many politicians have become on this issue. Several spoke of how families have come to their constituency offices asking for help for their loved ones. Lorna felt there was an overall feeling of compassion, not contempt, for those families and for those who were in the gallery.
There was no call for a decision in terms of a public health emergency, and no decision was made. But MomsStopTheHarm believe a lot of good took place. MLA's listened and learned from one another
The last MLA to speak offered a very insightful anology to where Alberta is at now with respect to the opioid crisis. He said that there are many horses hooked up to the cart of change. But currently the horses are all pointed in different directions. What is needed is leadership to harness the agents of change and get the cart moving in a clear, focused direction.