Below is the text of a letter MSTH sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to Ginette Petitpas Taylor, as well as the response from the Minister of Health.
February 13, 2018
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street , Ottawa, Ontario, K1A0A2
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
We are writing on behalf of the 350 members of Moms Stop The Harm (www.momstoptheharm.com) whose loved ones have died drug-related deaths, many of which have occurred during the opioid overdose crisis. Members of our advocacy group recently attended Town Hall meetings in Edmonton and Nanaimo. Thank you for hearing our questions and comments about the need for drug policy reform at those two town-hall events, and thank you for offering your condolences on our losses.
Did you know that since November 13th, 2017, over 400 letters were sent to the office of the Prime Minister by members of MSTH and their allies, and to date no one has received a personal reply? The letters were sent as part of a campaign called “Do Something Prime Minister.” Information about the campaign and photos can be found here: http://www.momsstoptheharm.com/personal-blog/
Those who sent letters are all relatives (mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, cousins) and friends of those who died of drug-related causes. Almost all of the letters that were sent contained cherished photos of our loved ones who have died.
Given the personal nature of the letters and photos that were sent, it is very hurtful to the families that they have not received a response. As MSTH member Patricia Clark states: “This was a very heartfelt campaign and I am very disappointed that my family has not received any response from the Prime Minister.” Another MSTH member stated: “It was hard to do (to send the letter and photo), and my family will echo this, and to be ignored is brutal.” Members of MSTH feel stigmatized because the federal government has failed to contact us after we sent in photos and letters relating to our losses. Now that you know about this letter writing campaign, we are sure you will respond with a letter that we can share with the people who participated in the campaign. We hope your response begins with offering your condolences.
During your recent town hall meeting in Nanaimo, you stated, “there is a lot more to do at the Federal Government. We’re always happy to do more….We are facing tragedies…you are facing terrible tragedies that have no business in a country like Canada…we should be able to keep our communities safe. We are aware of the opioid crisis and it is something we need to redouble our efforts on to honour those we have lost and make sure we don’t keep losing the best and brightest….”
We appreciate your willingness to do more and would like to make several suggestions based on our experience and representing at least 400 families who have lost a loved one to the overdose crisis. We specifically request that you instruct the federal government to:
- Deploy more federal financial investment in responding to the overdose crisis and fund the response at the scale that would be expected for any other public health emergency of this magnitude. However, while it is critical, more than just funding is required.
- Work with Provinces and Territories and provide leadership to address the lack of training for health care providers in evidence-based addiction treatment that has led to Canada not having a functioning addiction treatment system. Many of the deaths of our loved ones can be directly traced back to the failure of our non-existent addiction treatment system. Leadership at the federal level is needed to push the provinces and territories into establishing evidence-based health care provider education in addiction medicine. This includes the inclusion of addiction medicine in medical student and nursing student curricula, as well as, critically, funding for addiction medicine fellowships so that the expert workforce that does not presently exist will be created in the coming years.
- Correct the woefully inadequate resources Canada has directed towards action-oriented substance use and addiction research. We want to see the role of research in promoting social change in this controversial area acknowledged through the dramatic scale up of addiction research funding. This could support both responding to the opioid epidemic as well as funds to help address questions related to other drug policy reform needs, including cannabis legalization and the decriminalization of all currently illegal drugs. Here, we strongly recommend following the example of the US National Institutes of Health by creating a substance use-dedicated institute within the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Many of the services offered for addiction care in Canada are not based on a foundation of research and evidence, and establishing stronger research and knowledge translation capacity will help with needed implementation. Decisions like this make sense from an economic, political and knowledge mobilization perspective and should be made urgently.
- Create better governance to help organize the response to the overdose crisis. This could be accomplished through the formulation of a federal ministerial council on the opioid crisis. The council could be like the Alberta Ministers Opioid Emergency Response Commission (MOERC) initiated in Alberta in May, 2017 https://www.alberta.ca/albertas-opioid-crisis-response.aspx and draw on the experience of the Ministerial Advisory Council on the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada. This new council, focused on the opioid crisis, needs to include people with lived experience and families (including indigenous representation), as well as scholars and practitioners and health officials, who have knowledge of and understand evidence based strategies to address the opioid crisis. The implementation of this Federal Ministerial Council should be announced along with considerable dedicated federal funding. Alberta invested $30 million annually, and we would expect that a federal investment would match this on a per population basis. Such a Council should advise on the allocation of this funding in prevention, treatment, and harm reduction.
- Provide dedicated resources and provide instruction to provinces and territories to establish family advocacy and support groups and peer-support groups. People directly affected by the opioid crisis, including people who use drugs and family members affected by substance use or addiction, are best positioned to identify and help implement solutions. These groups have not been well supported or acknowledged. The need for federal action in this area is urgent.
- Act now on drug policy reform. After years of inaction by the previous government regarding drug policy reform, we are encouraged by recent changes that your Liberal government has implemented including: passing the Good Samaritan Act, approving supervised consumption services across the country, supporting the piloting of drug checking initiatives, and initiating a national anti-stigma and education campaign. We are also encouraged that Liberal MPs are hoping to adopt a priority resolution at the Liberal Party of Canada’s policy convention that would direct the federal government to eliminate criminal penalties for simple possession and consumption of all illicit drugs. The decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use is urgently needed. Substance use disorder is not a moral failing. It is a health issue that requires treatment and continued support, rather than a criminal justice approach, an approach taken by Portugal, Switzerland and soon Norway and the State of Oregon.
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible. The families who sent those 400 letters are waiting for a response that will acknowledge their losses and provide information to them about the next steps the Federal government is taking to address the opioid overdose crisis.
We also formally request the opportunity to meet with you and you team to hear directly how we can mobilize support for the implementation of the above initiatives. Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.
Leslie McBain, Petra Schulz, Lorna Thomas
Co-founders. Moms Stop The Harm.
Cc: Linda Duncan, MP; Elisabeth May, MP; Don Davis, MP; Ginette Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health; Suzy McDonald, Deputy Minister of of Health, BCCSU.