Do they really need to hit rock bottom?

Helen Jennens, March 12, 2017

Two terms I most hated when supporting my son through heroin addiction were, “tough love" and " they need to hit rock bottom”, and let's not forget, "enabler." These words are too often used.

I had more than my share of this advice from many that I now know, really did not understand the realities of addiction. My personal response to these phrases now are: Rock bottom is most often in the landscape of this opioid crisis, dead. If sticking a needle in your arm everyday, maybe two or three times a day, just to stave off painful withdrawal and feel normal for a few hours, is not bottom? We cannot even imagine the things they must do to secure their drugs. Again, the bottom.

The toughest love you will ever see is a mother trying to save her child, if that makes me an enabler, I plead guilty. I, and the moms and allies of Moms Stop The Harm believe in "moving heaven and earth to save them".

I had one son Rian and one son Tyler, they are irreplaceable and I must live the rest of my life without them. I wish I could have done more and am glad I did not buy into the falsehood fallacy of tough love.

Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Keep the faith.

Leslie McBain reflects on her meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver on March 3, 2017.

My thoughts on meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday, and his comments the day before: We are all frustrated at the slow pace of action from the government. Our kids and other loved ones have died, we are fighting for change and still, people die. Believe me, I get that. I work with people in BC and in Ottawa who spend all their time researching, treating, lobbying, meeting, talking, wishing, pounding their fists. They are some of the best brains on drug research and policy in the world. They, we, are making progress.

At this point it does not seem possible for the Prime Minister to decriminalize all illicit drugs. I think it will happen in the future because even he, and all people working for drug policy change, know this is the only realistic way to end the overdose crisis.

We do live in a democracy and the populace votes. Most people are still in the old school of stigmatized thinking around drug use and drug addiction. The government cannot act without the will of the people. The will of the people will not be changed until we, people with direct and indirect lived experience, advocates, and experts, work on the destigmatizing of drug use.

One of the points I made with the Prime Minister is that we need a national strategy on stigma. The way to start is for legislators hearing from the constituents and we can work to engage those constituents. Government moves slowly. This means that all the Moms Stop The Harm warriors must meet in person and talk to our MLAs, MPs, write letters, have meetings, talk to everyone we meet on the subject of reason and compassion in drug use.

We can only use the system we have. It is a democracy. I have been working within the system (but not for government) for two years, and we have seen change on many issues, such as Naloxone and supervised consumption services. My experience tells me this is the way to go. Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Keep the faith.

These were my children, but it could be anyones child.

Helen Jennens spoke at a fundraiser for the Foundry Kelowna, an integrated youth-service centre for kids and teens in need of mental health care and social service.

Thank-you for offering me the opportunity to tell you my story and honour my boys.

I am referred to as a mother with lived experience. I can assure you it is not the kind you would want to share. There are no words to express the never-ending grief and sorrow of child loss.
In 1987 my oldest son Rian, at the age of 13 was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin, he hated taking it.

Rian was a kind, soft hearted soul. He was easily hurt and disappointed. He struggled with school and was a bit of a social out cast so had little self confidence. At 15 he started self medicating, first with alcohol and then drugs.

I searched high and low for help, explored every avenue available. At that time the services were scarce with large gaping holes in the system. The next 11 years of our lives were riddled with trauma, drug misuse and mental health issues.

Then a miracle happened. When Rian was about 26 he found a recovery group that really seemed to work for him, a big part of it was connecting with others that faced the same challenges. He spent the next 8 years of his life free from drugs and alcohol.

In October of 2008, Rian was hit by a truck while riding his motorcycle. He suffered horrific injuries to his leg which was shattered from hip to toe. After three long years of on going surgeries, suffering chronic pain, depression and anxiety on August 21, 2011 Rian died alone in his bed of respiratory failure due to a combined drug overdose. I found him the following day.

Tyler on the other hand lived a charmed life. He was smart, witty industrious athletic extremely funny and absolutely fearless. He had startling good looks and things in life 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 finally ended up in Thailand. He quickly picked up the language and had soon built a very successful business and happy life. It was here in Thailand he fathered his first child, a son named Mac.

Tyler was also a very kind and generous man. He was hailed as a hero in the Canadian press after he saved a drowning Thai boatman during the devastating Tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand on Boxing day in 2004.

With many friends lost and his business destroyed, he and his family returned to Canada.
We have no idea what impact that Tsunami had on Tyler’s mental state but felt he was exhibiting signs of post traumatic stress.

It was difficult to return to Canada with nothing and start over, but Ty managed. In 2010, Tyler ruptured his achillies playing football. He underwent surgery and was sent home with a prescription of oxycontin. With all the other components most likely in place, Tyler developed a dependency on opioids.

In my opinion, mental health issues and drug misuse are dance partners. Who leads depends on the day and the circumstances. Does drug abuse begin with mental illness, I am not sure but I do believe mental health issues will develop from drug misuse. Until we can deal with these issues concurrently we have little chance of solving either.

Tyler did not cope well with Rian’s death. Shortly after, Tyler’s drug abuse escalated to heroin, it was cheaper and much easier to get than oxycontin. I could write a book on the horrifying and tragic events that followed over the next five years.

Once again I was launched into the search for resources. We spoke to physicians, psychiatrists, councillors, outreach workers, RCMP, treatment centres and members of the clergy. My knees were raw from prayer.

The spare bedroom in my home became an emergency room, a detox, a rehab, a homeless shelter, a jail cell and on the worst of days a war zone. Long 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 could never seem to bring back….we still remembered that boy.

Supporting his addiction, Tyler had broken his own moral code and his shame and self loathing only added to his suffering and the relentless drive to use.

On January 13, 2016, Ty returned home from a recovery meeting. His spirits were high. He came around my bed and knelt down 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 morning we left him sleeping peacefully in his bed and went to work. If I could just turn back the hands of time.

At work that morning I received an e-mail from an old friend of Rian’s. I had not spoken to Betty in over a year, but she wrote, I am not sure what compels me to write to you today, but I wanted you to know I feel Rian’s spirit so strongly and wanted to tell you he is right there beside you.

I left work at the usual time, I was sitting at the light at Water and Hwy 97 when a firetruck, with siren blaring roared around me into on coming traffic and flew up Pandosy. I ended up following that truck and when it stopped in front of my son’s ex-wifes apartment my heart plummeted. They would not let me in the apartment. I was forced to wait in the hallway as first responders worked feverishly to restart my son’s heart. Finally, after failing they allowed me in. For the second time I laid down with my dead boy and whispered things in his ear I knew he could no longer hear.

Jan 14, 2016, Tyler died of a pure fentanyl disguised as heroin overdose. I try and make myself believe that Rian did come that day to guide his brother to a safer happier place.

In a text to me a few weeks before he passed, Ty wrote, “ Mom I just need you to know,” It took me weeks to figure out it”s meaning. Ty had probably tried to tell me in a hundred different ways. What he wanted me to know was that he loved us all more than enough, but alone, without the proper help, he just could not win this battle.

In February of 2016 I became a member of Moms Stop The Harm. Moms stop the harm is a network of western canadian mothers that have all lost children to mental illness and or drug misuse. They are warrior moms that advocate for change and offer support to other suffering families. I joined a group of 12 Moms, we are now 80 strong.

I am often asked, how do you do it, how do you keep going, keep advocating.
I’ll tell you, I do it for Rian and I do it for Tyler. I do it for Tyler’s children, for surely with their young history they are at high risk for mental health and drug misuse.

I do it to reduce the shame and stigma that surround mental health and addiction. To bring awareness and prevention. To help society recognize that these are medical issues, not moral failings. To have you all see,it happens in the best of families to the nicest people.

I am still searching for the answers to the questions I started asking when Rian was 13. I have high hopes that Foundry will provide them.

I applaud the hard work, devotion and commitment of everyone involved in making the vision of Foundry a reality. As a caring, connected community we now need your help to insure it’s sustainability.

These were my children, but believe me when I say, it could be anyone’s child.

#LifeWontWait National Day of Action on the opioid crisis

Edmonton February 21, 2017

Petra Schulz' comments at the National Day of Action in Edmotnon

Moms Stop the Harm is standing in solidarity with AWARE and CAPUD because we know, that lives wont wait. Our group has grown to almost 100 in less than a year and most of us either mourn the loss of a loved one, or have who is seeking recovery or both. We are only the tip of the iceberg, as thousands of Canadian families have lost loved ones to drug policies that consider our children to be dispensable.

Every time a new mom/dad/sister/brother of spouse joins us, it is a story of sadness and despair. Lives lost and the lives of those who mourn irrevocably changed. I feel a sense of urgency and panic with every family. I know it does not have to bee this way. The solutions are readily available. They range of simple and affordable harm reduction options.

The improved access to Naloxone is great and has saved many lives, why do people need to overdose in the first place? Why do people need to buy dangerous drugs on the street?
On the news we may hear about people being buried in an avalanche. Do we stand on that pile of snow and say, “Hey buddy, you made some bad choices, dig yourself out’? But that is exactly what we do with people who use drugs, without looking at the underlying issues, the trauma or mental health issues.”

We need access to safer substances for use and for treatment and we need supervised consumption services in cities, small towns, reserves and in jails. We need to teach young people how to stay safe because there are always people who use drugs. Primarily, we need to end a failed war on drugs that criminalizes those in need or care and support.

It has cost too many lives, and as a mom who will never her hug and hold her youngest child again, I tell you that Lives Wont Wait and neither will we.

National Day o Action 2017-02-21.jpg

A mom's letter to a son on the anniversary of his death

By Karen Huggins, Calgary, AB

Dear Nathan,

Just a short year ago, my whole world changed in an instant when I found you dead in your bed at around 1:00 in the afternoon. One of the branches of my family tree irrevocably gone, never to return. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year searching past events for a moment in which I might have made a difference in the ultimate outcome; a word or two that may have helped you to understand just how loved you were, how important you are to me, to the whole family, to your friends, to Rosalind. I’ve arrived at no firm conclusions, except for the fact that I needed to understand substance use disorder much better than I did before your fatal overdose…and that I can’t blame myself for that lack of knowledge.

In the thick of trying to help you and keep you alive, there were no road signs leading me to the proper information, no health professionals providing information on opioid addiction and the risks involved with detox, rehab, and being signed out of the system far too early with no proper support and after care. The whole experience was like finding myself in a maze...blindfolded. I’ve had to educate myself this past year, and wish so much that this information had been forthcoming last year, before you took that last dose of fentanyl and never woke up again.

I’m so sorry Nathan. I’m sorry for you, for myself, and for everyone who cared so deeply about you. You were an amazingly intelligent person with an uncommon intellectual curiosity. You are someone who could have made some positive changes in the world on so many different levels. While you were in rehab, I often thought about how much you could contribute to others with substance use disorder through speaking at schools, community centres, conferences…you were always a gifted public speaker, and I felt you could likely communicate well with a group of teenagers who might be living a troubled existence and keen on using drugs to hide away from their pain. But this opportunity was never to be.

Instead, Rosalind and Jessica and I decided to pick up the pieces when you left, and are trying to make a difference in the lives of others. I will not let your death be in vain…unintentionally, you left behind a legacy that needs to be honoured. We are working very hard to change the face of addiction, both in terms of changing policies and strategies, as well as at the grass roots level.

Some days this is hard…grieving your death is hard work. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed. Some days it’s all I can do to ‘act’ normal, whatever that is. I’m still struggling to find the 'new' normal, to not constantly feel that huge hole in my heart. And then there are some days I feel a little better, and understand that I do have the strength within to carry on, live my life well, and move forward in making changes to the outdated policies and strategies and the stigma that have been a hallmark of addictions and mental health services for far too many years.

Your beautiful niece and two adorable little nephews are a huge help to me in this ‘carrying on’ part…we talk about you to them so that they’ll remember Uncle Nathan as they get older. You would get such a kick out of them and their antics!

I keep working away at this whole grief process, and one thing I know: I am so grateful that you are my son, and that I had the honour and pleasure of raising you and having you be a part of my life for almost 35 years. You brought a beautiful light to my life that I’ll always treasure. I just really miss you – your dry wit, your kindness, your love of animals, your beautiful smile, your brightness, your hugs. I wish you so much love and light always.

Love and hugs,

Mom

Just imagine - life without your child

Just imagine

Just imagine having a beautiful baby boy, he was perfect in all ways, right from his chubby toes right up to his beautiful face.

Just imagine all his firsts! His smile, sitting, crawling, standing, walking, foods, teeth, haircut, first friendships!

Just imagine going through each developmental stage and milestone. Playing at the parks, going for walks each day and putting him down for a sleep each night and waking up to his beautiful smiling face each morning.

Just imagine going to birthday parties he was invited to, picking him up from school or daycare everyday. Making him dinner every night, and cuddling on the couch after dinner.

Just imagine watching him grow and learn new things everyday and how his mind is expanding with each piece of knowledge he soaks in. With each question he asks and how he just ponders about the answer.

Just imagine his first day of school, the excitability and nervousness all together. The stories he has when the day is done and your coming home on the bus and his little mouth can't stop because his day was fantastic!

Just imagine the dreams or nightmares and your all he has and he is your entire world. Your one of many jobs is to keep him safe and protected.

Just imagine your "little boy" coming out to you just before bedtime and saying "Mom, you don't have to tuck me in anymore, I'm a big boy now" and how that just made your heart sink.

My little boy is growing up.

Just imagine his first job that he got. How proud and excited he was to be making his own money and the responsibility that comes with it.

Just imagine him going out on his own with the friends you hope are good. You hope you have instilled the right morals and taught him well.

Just imagine him to be a natural athlete, that any sport he picked up he excelled at. The one most important to him was skateboarding.

Just imagine him coming home with friends he wants to protect and give them shelter because they don't have a safe place to go and he feels his home is safe, warm and comfortable. You know then, you have a son who has a heart of gold and it's one more thing to be proud of him for.

Just imagine all those random texts of him still telling you about his day or funny things he's seen or just to say hello.

Just imagine him getting his learners and is now learning to drive in your vehicle and how nervous you are but how excited he is!

Just imagine going bed shopping for his 18th birthday, trying to get him ready to move out on his own one day and the smile on his face because it was his choice which one.

Just imagine him working hard everyday and saving his own money, and buying his first car and how proud he is and how proud you are, but your still nervous because he's your only baby.

Just imagine your son has just turned the adult age, you've gone through the trials and tribulations of adolescents, you've both survived! Your excited and sad at the same time.

Just imagine walking in his room just months after his 19th birthday, to find him in his warm, safe and comfortable bed, dead. The screams and cry's coming from your mouth. The agony you feel as you try to bring him back to life. The 9-1-1 call you make, in hopes they can resuscitate him because you couldn't. The words coming from the paramedics mouth "I'm sorry".

Just imagine the heartbreak, the overwhelming feeling of losing your only child, the one who you raised and became the compassionate man he was.

Just imagine not ever being able to see, hear or hug your child again. The emptiness that will always linger, a part of you always missing. Feeling incomplete.

Just imagine trying to hold yourself up, while crying uncontrollably inside and out, while everyone else is moving about. Time does not stand still for anybody.

Just imagine trying to make sense of it all, the reasoning behind the loss, if any. The faith you once had is now gone and your belief system has now been altered.

Just imagine the new journey you've have been forced into living and trying to adapt to your new reality with all your mixed emotions of life, you push through even though you don't want to.

Now...this is all you have.

Just imagine his adulthood, his wedding, as he'd be in love and would have treated her like a princess, his children, he would have been the most active father, because his was absent, his first home, because he worked so hard to get.

Just imagine I would have been the most proudest grandmother and I am the most proudest mother. For my son has given me so much and yet left me with so much more to learn.

Just imagining, it's all I have.

Curtis Kozak

August 9, 1995 - November 27, 2014

The issue of poisoning by adding fentanyl to other drugs

Lorrie Maude lost her brother to fentanyl poinsening after the drugs he was using where laced with this synthetic opioid. Here are her thoughts on this issue.

In a nutshell, I think the increase in deaths in BC, Alberta and the rest of Canada...really North America, is due to dealers, driven by greed, cutting Fentanyl into heroin and cocaine without the patron's knowledge. They are also crushing up fentanyl and repressing them into pills and marketing them as a more a expensive drug, such as OxyContin. People, like my brother, who have used heroin (or other drug) for many years and are probably better at eyeballing a hit than a nurse or an experienced bartender is at measuring an ounce of vodka, are taking their usual amount to stay well or to get a buzz only to be found dead later and labelled as another "overdose" victim. If a mother of 3 was found dead after drinking a glass of wine and the wine was found to have fentanyl in it, would we say she drank herself to death? If the heroin had Cyanide in it, would they then call it a poisoning.

I do not want my brother's death or anyone else's death to be called an overdose under these circumstances. This insinuates that due to their miscalculation, their mistake, they died by their own hand. Reminds me of when they used to ask the victim of a rape what she was wearing or what she was doing to entice their attacker. Our loved ones survived the streets; they survived beatings, they survived jail, they survived police brutality, they survived sicknesses most of us will never experience; they survived the daily grind of living with addiction. Everyday for them was a war and they were warriors...fighting their demons and struggling to find sobriety for short stretches and sometimes for longer ones... these people were fighters. Saying they overdosed is like the final kick in the teeth that they do not deserve. They did not do this to themselves. They were poisoned. Their lives were robbed. They were killed I would like to stop using the word "overdose".

Drug addiction has stolen so many lives & we all have our pain.

Although I try to stay out of the media due to public opinion on my son's case, I do occasionally feel I need to speak out. I cannot even imagine the pain of losing a child or loved one to a drug overdose. I came close to losing my son as well. He had a severe opioid addiction. I slept in fear of a call coming. That call was about his arrest & my world fell apart. It's a nightmare our family deals with every single day. The public judges him on media information. They don't know him so assume he's a horrible person who had no regard for human life. He's not. He is kind & caring & ready to help anyone. His addiction took away the ability to think of dangers and consequences. I am not defending him because he's my son. I'm defending him because I know who he is deep down & that he's not someone who was in a dangerous lifestyle to make profit off others addictions. He had lost everything due to his addiction. He made bad choices due to his own addiction. I don't think he could have made the right choices at that point when his addiction became so severe. We had no idea it was opioids. He is 1 year clean now but will live the nightmare of his past for the rest of his life. I can't speak about his case as it's before the courts but please, before you judge, I ask that you reserve judgement until all the facts are out. The pain we are all in while he faces an uncertain future & the pain he has been through fighting this addiction & living with everything that happened as a result is something I can't begin to describe. I am a mom too & I am hurting too. My son didn't die but it was a matter of time. Of course he will have to pay the price to society that the courts decide. We always taught our kids to obey the law & respect the law. This horror we live with isn't something we ever could have imagined. Every time the media shows his story again, we are sick. My heart is with all mom's who have lost a child. I know you don't know me or my son so you may hate us & that's your right but I just needed to say my side.

Drug addiction has stolen so many lives & we all have our pain.

Thank you,

Tina Yarmey

Brandon Jansen inquest brings 21 recommendations to reduce illicit drug deaths

Here are the jury’s 21 recommendations:

To: The Minister of Health

  1. Develop specific substance use treatment facility regulations under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, including with respect to educational qualifications for persons working in such facilities.
  2. Ensure free opioid maintenance drugs in the community for people leaving correction centres.
  3. Review the need for increasing the number of supervised consumption sites rather than overdose prevention sites.
  4. Explore options to create a shared database for the treatment of substance abuse to include medical, psychiatric, criminal and substance abuse treatment records.
  5. Explore options for critical incident information sharing with respect to unexpected deaths in substance use facilities among licensees and Health Authorities with the goal of enhancing client safety and risk prevention.
  6. Develop standards of practice for treating persons with opioid addictions.
  7. Provide, develop and improve adolescent substance abuse treatment facilities.

To: The Minister of Health and CEOs of Regional Health Authorities

  1. Consult with persons with lived experience with substance use dependency in policy and program development.

To: The CEOs of Regional Health Authorities

  1. Require all substance use treatment centres to educate clients with opioid use disorders about opioid maintenance treatments, the risks of relapse, ensure the understanding of tolerance levels, training for the use of naloxone, and provision of naloxone kits upon discharge.
  2. Require all substance use treatment programs to report back to health authorities on client outcomes.
  3. Provide opioid dependent users ready access to opioid replacement interventions.
  4. Expand diacetylmorphine and hydromorphone treatment programs for chronic opioid users

To: The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General

  1. Develop a standard of practice for inmate community release, including the requirement that inmates on opioid maintenance treatment are assigned to community physicians capable of treating them. Inmates also need the ability to apply for social assistance and housing prior to release.

To: The Minister of Education:

  1. Conduct a review of approved drug education resources in line with current evidence based research. Implement into the education curriculum a substance abuse and addiction program, starting at the elementary level by giving the teachers the resources and tools needed.
  2. Have Noloxone kits available in the school system with trained personal on site.

To: The Director of the BC Centre on Substance Use

  1. Embark on comparative research of substance use treatment modalities with the goal of determining the features that lead to better client outcomes.

To: The Registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia

To: The Chair of the British Columbia Medical Association

To: The Board Chair of the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia, and

To: The President of the British Columbia Nurse Practitioner Association

  1. Ensure membership is aware that Suboxone is a first line treatment option for opioid use disorder, as well as the risks and benefits of Suboxone relative to methadone.

To: The CEO Sunshine Coast Health Centre

  1. Review security procedures and training with all staff.

To: The CEO all Licensed Substance Use Treatment Centres

  1. Review guidelines regarding cell phone / Electronic device polices.
  2. Ensure all baggage is searched on entering the facility including clients and visitors.
  3. Consider greater security measures for monitoring clients and visitors. e.g.- Fob System for door; – Video System

Safe-injection sites save lives

Re. “Injection sites get tepid response in poll,” Jan. 18

Since our youngest son died from an accidental overdose to fentanyl in 2014, I have become an advocate for measures that reduce the harm that come from drug use. People who struggle with addiction don’t have a “choice” to just stop taking the drug they have become dependent on without access to treatment that is in very short supply.

Supervised injection services are one piece of the harm-reduction puzzle. In my conversations with even the greatest skeptics I found that most people support these services when I explain why they exist and what they do for people.

If the question is, “Do you support sites where people inject illegal drugs?” you get a different answer than to the question, “Do you support a health-care service that prevents overdose deaths, cuts infection risk, saves health-care costs, reduces public disorder (e.g. public injecting, unsafe needle disposal) and increases the number of people going into treatment by 30 per cent?” Supervised injection services are proven to do all these things.

As a mom, the most important aspect of harm reduction is to keep them alive, so they have a chance to make a better decision on another day.

Petra Schulz, founding member of Moms Stop The Harm, Edmonton

Published in the Edmonton Journal, January 20, 2017

Government Paradigm Shift Needed For Addiction And Mental Illness

Carol Mackie, Salt Spring Island, BC

This letter was first published in the Salt Spring Exchange, December 16, 2016

I am a Salt Spring Island-based mother of one of the over 622 people who have died from (primarily) Fentanyl overdoses in 2016 in our province alone.

I also am the mother of an adult son struggling with a mental health disorder. Both my children had the benefit of a loving, supportive and economically-secure home with parents willing to spend whatever it took to get them help.

The problem is that Canada simply does not have effective mechanisms in place to provide the kind of assistance that the most vulnerable among us desperately need.

What we need is a complete paradigm shift when it comes to helping Canadians with addictions and mental illnesses. Please let me share with you why I have come to believe that this is absolutely critical.

On July 6, 2016 I found my beloved daughter, Kate, splayed over the side of her bed: cold, hard and with a bluish/blackish mottled face. She had been dead for several hours. The on-site coroner and attending RCMP officer concurred that the scene had all the markings of a heroin overdose.

It took over 3 months for her toxicology report to arrive, thanks to the huge backload of Fentanyl-driven demands on the only lab on the B.C. mainland that handles coroner toxicology reports. There was no heroin in Kate’s system, only Fentanyl, a drug that my daughter specifically steered clear of as it had almost killed her once before in Calgary.

My daughter had been an addict since age 13. Very few treatment options existed then (or now) and all were designed exclusively for the wealthy. The two very expensive long term residential programs we tried had abysmal success rates as did the various short term free treatment programs. But what other choices did we have? About the same choices that my adopted father had when he unsuccessfully sought help for his alcoholism when I was a child growing up in the 50s.

With drug addiction comes the need for cash, which leads to crime, which leads to jail. Kate went through this vicious cycle and came out the other side. She got clean and was paying her debts to society. She moved to Salt Spring Island earlier this year at age 31 to start a responsible, hard-working and much beloved new life with me.

Unfortunately, as in so many B.C. and other Canadian locales, opioid addiction is big business on Salt Spring Island. Between the backyard chemists mixing up and pressing their own pills, the counterfeit drugs flowing in from Asia, and the money-strapped folks selling their prescription opioids on the street to supplement their incomes, we have a huge, unaddressed problem here.

Relapse is a part of addiction and Kate was not immune.

When my daughter relapsed and sought her drug of choice, heroin, she had no trouble finding someone who would charge her for heroin but, unbeknownst to her, sell her the much cheaper Fentanyl instead. When she inhaled what she thought was a maintenance dose of heroin, she was killed instantly by the far more powerful Fentanyl.

Is this not murder on the dealer’s part? If someone sold a lawyer an “all-natural” cookie laced with enough arsenic to be fatal, I’ll bet that someone would be charged with murder. Why aren’t dealers - trying to profit by selling a cheaper, deadlier drug for a more expensive one - not being held accountable for murder?

No alert was issued island-wide after Kate’s death that Fentanyl was being passed off as heroin to our children and neighbors. Her many friends, co-workers and loved ones were left with no answers and certainly no solutions. I have since heard via the medical community of more unreported Fentanyl deaths on Salt Spring Island. Why aren’t warnings being shouted from the rooftops by police, health officials, social workers, pharmacists, etc? Or as a society, are we really okay with this kind of silent carnage? Please ensure that the answer to this troubling question is “no.”

Let’s talk about common sense solutions, some of which are admittedly Band-aids while others require systemic change.

On the systemic change front, it is imperative that as a civilized society, we stop punishing people for their illnesses and start helping them to live productive lives in spite of their afflictions. For this to happen, the boondoggle that is the racist, U.S.-led “War on Drugs” must end. How much more proof is needed of its abject failure? It is time for Canada to show real leadership and break with this incredibly destructive “war” that is tearing apart families, neighborhoods, communities and the very fabric of our nation itself.

  • Legalize all drugs. There is no other way to drag drug addiction out of the shadows, the prisons and the morgues. Take the power away from the street dealers/cartels/murderers and stop treating their victims like they deserve what they get.
  • Surely it is the government’s role to oversee the safe production and distribution of all drugs as they do with alcohol and tobacco. Sensible guidelines are expected but the Nanny State doesn’t work so our individual rights as citizens to make decisions about our own health and consumption must be respected. It is only when we cross the line to purposefully do harm to others via illegal drug manufacturing and dealing that the long arm of the law is needed to step in.
  • Use the tax money currently being squandered on drug enforcement and punishment and use it for addiction research and education which leads to proven and humane treatment methods.
  • Stop using police SWAT teams to “take down” the mentally ill, either by shooting/tasering them or dropping them off at overwhelmed hospitals or remand centres that take cookie-cutter approaches to medication. My 34-year-old son cannot handle any of the side effects of the medications for his condition. He therefore, is considered by psychiatrists as untreatable and is refused any help. The legal system was unable to complete two court ordered psychiatric assessments even though he was held for 4 months, moving back and forth between a forensic psychiatric unit and a remand centre. His sister, Kate, was the only person he trusted and is really the only person that has ever actually helped him cope with his illness. He is, once again, back in the forensic psychiatric centre and his cycle of doom continues.
  • The availability of the opioid antidote, Naloxone, or more accurately, the lack thereof, is one of those Band-aid approaches that nevertheless can save lives, unless an addict is alone and cannot self-administer, or the addict has been fed a brand-new designer drug that is Naloxone-resistant. That said - is there any legitimate reason why Naloxone is harder to find than Fentanyl? Why isn’t Naloxone standard issue for every Canadian police cruiser, every EMT kit, every Pharmacy, every walk-in health clinic, every legal shooting gallery, etc?
  • Also part Band-aid but necessary nonetheless is the banning of the unregulated sale of pill presses. Why make it easier for say, freelance research chemists to “break bad” by using their knowledge to make and press Fentanyl pills that then kill our loved ones? Making the over-the-counter ingredients of meth less easily obtainable in the U.S., for example, has cut down on the number of mom and pop meth cook labs with all the social, health and environmental nightmares that go hand-in-hand.
  • We were promised more treatment beds in B.C. We are still waiting while our children die. However, more treatment beds are only effective if effective treatments are being administered in them. We need to kick our national habit of classifying people with addictions and mental illnesses as less -than-human, castaways to be left to the fate they brought upon themselves through weakness of character. We must reclassify addiction and mental problems as illnesses - just like Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Real dollars must be dedicated to thinking outside-of the-box to address addiction and mental illness. Surely, best practices from around the world could provide better solutions than we are getting right now here in Canada. Psychiatry also must undergo a major paradigm shift. Offering the same unhelpful solutions over and over and expecting different results is one definition of insanity, isn’t it?
  • Education is crucial to correct the many false assumptions and unhelpful, damaging, and discriminatory behaviour towards those who are afflicted. People who are not directly related to an addict or someone with a mental illness often don’t realize that there is much more to these folks than just their diseases. I have known a large number of addicts and many people with mental illness and most of them are or were kind, creative, talented and intelligent. My son, for instance, is very intelligent and excelled in math. He could work out the square of a 4 digit number in his head when he was 6 years old. He has a diploma from Loyola in electrical engineering and computer programming. Little good it has done him. My daughter was very much a people person. On Salt Spring Island, she was hard-working and well respected by staff and customers according to the owner of a building supplies company where she worked until her death.

The issue is that my addicted and mentally ill children aren’t the only ones. So many people have been failed miserably by our dysfunctional systems and not helped whatsoever. That is why we need to consider a whole new way of solving this enormously difficult problem and archaic, savage way of dealing with our sick and downtrodden.

The broken mechanisms currently in place for addiction and mental illness help next to no one. Not the addict and their families; nor the overwhelmed police, justice and healthcare systems; nor the frustrated taxpayer; nor the politicians who insist on keeping useless policies and an unjust system in place. It is the politicians who should ultimately be held responsible by an increasingly infuriated and ever-growing group of disgusted voters. It is the politicians who have the power to make the necessary changes . . . if only they can find the will and the courage.

What does Manitoba need to do to address the opioid crisis?

An open letter Drug Awareness Day Participants in Winnipeg Manitoba:

Mothers and Fathers of children addicted to drugs of any kind live with a constant fear – the fear of losing their child to overdose. I am one Mother, of many, to have lost a child. My son, Adam, died from a Fentanyl overdose – he was 27 years old.

Adam struggled for six years trying to get appropriate help for his opiate addiction from the limited resources available in Winnipeg. Adam wanted to escape his addiction and tried to do so many times. Our health care system was not prepared for the opiate crisis, and therefore not prepared to help him appropriately.

We ask ourselves “how does a young man like Adam even begin taking drugs”, drugs that are so dangerous? I believe that, often, our youth begin to take drugs to fit in. They may suffer from self esteem and anxiety issues. As we know, mental health and addiction often go hand in hand. Those that suffered abuse or homelessness may turn to drugs. Doctors have over-prescribed opiates and have not appropriately monitored the patient using these strong pain killers.

I am pleased that events like this can be a catalyst for change. It is an opportunity to share the resources and the knowledge that we have in Manitoba to respond to this urgent crisis in opiate addiction.

Trying to navigate the system for help with addiction was, at the time, the most frustrating and exhausting part of trying to get help for my son. Since my son’s death I have gone on the AFM website and must say that the improvements are wonderful - will the call made on the Helpline be the same?

I must impress upon our government the need to support our agencies and work in partnership to:

  • provide the training and awareness to improve our understanding of opiate addiction to work with compassion or expertise.
  • recognise that parents and family can often be an integral part of the process and need to be informed when they are actively involved. Decisions for treatment should not be left solely to the addict, as their brains are incapable of making that kind of judgement.
  • provide training and support for family Doctors to treat and prescribe treatments such as Suboxone, or access proper medical detox opportunities.

Emergency waiting rooms had intolerably long wait times. When an addict is crashing and wanting to detox they need immediate help. The health care professionals do not have the appropriate knowledge of, or access to, resources to deal with the opiate crisis.

Methadone programs lack the proper supports for success and have long wait times for assessments and entrance into the program. Once enrolled, something as simple as extended hours of operation would be of benefit to clients who are maintaining employment. Counselling and on-site therapy is also required to retrain the brain.

There is only one detox centre in Winnipeg (Main Street Project) and it is non-medical. It was very difficult for my son to be in that setting.

I want to thank the AFM for bringing awareness today and all the other agencies that are here this week. The more we can do to collectively to combat this terrible epidemic the better for this generation.

Christine Dobbs
Winnipeg Manitoba

'I was dead for 10 minutes': Vancouver's opioid overdose crisis

Petra's letter to CBC the current in regards to their broad cast of 'I was dead for 10 minutes': Vancouver's opioid overdose crisis on December 19, 2016.

We lost our youngest son Danny (age 25) to a Fentanyl overdose in 2014, and I have since become an advocate for harm reduction and drug policy reform.

Your documentary provides insight and draws attention to this health crisis, which is important and appreciated. What it does not do and where it falls short, is in identifying the obvious solutions to address this health crisis. The solutions are clear, simple, evidence based, inexpensive, and practiced in other countries.

The solutions fall under the umbrella of harm reduction and they are not new. In the face of this crisis they need to be implemented rapidly to end the carnage. They involved the following measures: We need ensure there is ready access to Naloxone, and replacement therapies with Suboxone and Methadone, across the country. We need access to treatment programs that embrace harm reduction. We need supervised consumption services across the country and we need them now. We need to offer heroin assisted treatment (heroin on prescription) to those with chronic addition issues for whom other treatment options have not worked. Physicians need to change their prescription practices so Canadian’s are no longer the second highest users of opioid based pain medications in the world, and we need to offer real drug education for young people, not scare tactics, with approaches used to teach about safe sex and drinking and driving.

It is essential that we end the failed war on drugs, and we need to shift our thinking from blaming the person to realizing that people who are drug dependant need medical help.

For me, and the others members of Moms Stop The Harm, who all have lost loved ones due to substance use, the definition of harm reduction is simple. It means keeping them alive so they can make a better decision on another day.

Regards,

Petra Schulz

Link to the CBC broadcast 'I was dead for 10 minutes': Vancouver's opioid overdose crisis

On Pragmatism and the Overdose Crisis - in support of prescription heroin

Imagine for a moment: you visit your family doctor because you have been feeling unwell. The doctor assesses you and says that you have dangerously high blood sugar or high blood pressure, or heart disease. The doctor says, "there are drugs for that, but unfortunately , it is not legal for me to prescribe them to you and that you will need to find what you need on the street." Just imagine…

A larger more pragmatic view must be taken on the opioid overdose crisis. We need to begin to shift our focus from one of more law enforcement, more border security, more statistics, more research, onto the immediate overdose crisis, and place it on what will work today. As the documentary, ‘Unstoppable’ on fentanyl, recently pointed out, the ‘chemists’ will continue to pump out unregulated, even more toxic versions of fentanyl, which has the effect of killing more people and further addicting the ones that don’t die. And there is a ridiculous amount of money for all involved in the supply side.

We will never catch all illicit fentanyl, or have enough beds, or catch in the safety net all those people who are addicted. Besides, what is going to take the place of heroin in their lives? Will they get jobs, housing, medical and mental health treatment, counselling? No they will not. Not in the present system.

So we need to be pragmatic and realistic. Our resources need to be going into assessment and dispensing safe, regulated, cheap or even subsidized opioids in safe venues. This will put the black marketers out of business by eliminating or drastically reducing their market. They will surely find some other nefarious work.

Let us accept that a segment of the population needs to ease its pain through drug use. Let us accept that this is not a moral failing, and let us treat it like the health issue that it is. If the medical community is allowed to treat drug dependent people with the medicine they need, i.e. opioids, they won’t die, they are healthier, they will not have to resort to crime to fund their needs. Their families will be safer. The whole community is healthier. The billions of dollars saved in law enforcement, border services, incarceration, and emergency healthcare can easily fund the recovery and social services we need. .

Let’s get real in ending the overdose crisis. Let’s try what will surely work. That would be a gift.

Leslie McBain

Overdose Crisis Public Forum

Vancouver, December 8, 2016

I just want to say thanks to our Leslie McBain for her inspiring, passionate and powerful talk which she gave at the Overdose Crisis Public Forum which was held here at Vancouver City Hall on December 8. I was there and heard her speaking, and was so proud of her; I wanted to jump up and clap and yell out loud!

The forum was fully packed and people were standing outside. Along with Leslie, the panel speakers included Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Office for Vancouver; Al Fowler, President of BC Association of People on Methadone; Adam Palmer, Chief Constable Vancouver Police Department; Sarah Heneghan, Urban Native Youth Association; Patrick Smith, Director of Aboriginal Health, Portland Community Services Society; Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

There were representations from all parts of society including several MLAs, several City Councillors, many doctors and nurses and emergency responders, people with addictions, people working in addictions outreach, and interested members of the public. It was a very important and successful meeting, and after the panel speakers, a round-table discussion was held with everyone giving their input. Leslie made sure the parent/family message was heard loud and clear and that people understand that those who died are loved and dearly missed, not just statistics.

Patricia Hamilton, Victoria, BC

Marie's Rant

Saturday morning rant. Move along if I'm annoying. I'm really ok with it.

So reading this morning about a mom who dealt with parents from her sons hockey team, adding their 2 cents on the fentanyl crisis. Outcome- let them die- self imposed - why should my tax dollars pay.

So let's expand our thinking here and save the healthcare system a bundle.

I challenge all the naysayers to speak up without fear on the following:

  • Smokers with related illnesses - yes even grandma
  • The overweight who's knees can no longer support the infrastructure
  • The heavy drinker who needs liver treatment or even a new organ all together!
  • The diabetic who has a plethora of health related issues because they didn't mange according to the treatment plan
  • The arm chair football watching, pizza and beer eating expert with heart disease

I'm sure I could think of more...

The only difference between the items listed above and that of an active substance abuser - could be disposition. So if we're keeping nicer people alive - then let's use a personality test as our treatment guide in emergency rooms -

Bam - I've just solved the healthcare issue.

There is not a single addict who started out any different than you and I. Many addictions are born of trauma - many many many start with a well intended Dr, with a prescription pad.

Did you know the demographic group with the highest rate of opioid related hospitalisation in Saskatchewan? Senior freakin citizens !!!! True dat.

So next time you want to scrape our city clean of addicts because of their heavily weighted cost on our communities - clean up your own house first - of every self inflicted medical ailment and condition. Add up the dollars you save when you get a refund on grandmas oxygen tank - go buy her a pack of smokes on the way home and Pat yourself on the back you urban hero you! - and way to take a stand - you no longer look like a fool who assigns a moral meter to health care coverage.

Frankly we need to pull back holistically and look it this issue. Certainly we are hearing from the crazy momma's like me - I have nothing to lose -

However aside from the maternal Maniacs - talk to first responders - judges - insurance companies - small businesses held up at gun point - the criminal justice system / we can NOT incarcerate our way out of this one. Our jails are are 120% capacity - at the expense of rehabilitative programs - classrooms in prisons are now dorms.

This is a multi billion dollars industry it's not going anywhere .

A very good friend of mine said yesterday- for every new addict on the street - we create 5 more. Because they need at least 5 customers to help pay for their own habit. But take that addict off the street and get them help and recovery - we have potential saved the other 5.

Yes your kids can be convinced to do drugs. Don't let dance lessons and Sunday dinners fool you - all our kids had them.

It can be anyone's child. Anyone's. Don't have to eat your words one day.

Peace out...or in. Something like that.

Marie Agioritis

An Open Letter to the Honourable Jane Philpot, Federal Minister of Health

Dear Honorable Minister Jane Philpot,

[I listened to the whole Opioid Conference from the comfort of my home in BC. I heard your closing remarks. So therefore today, I am doing what you asked of us to do, I am going to PUSH the government because as you said, ‘The wheels of government move slowly.’]

So here is today's little PUSH:

My son’s friend Dayton almost died on August 29th from a Fentanyl overdose. Instead he ended up with a traumatic brain injury.

Luckily the Vancouver hospital was able to contact his mother and she was able to intervene from letting them just discharge him back to the streets, while his brain injury continued to do more damage.

You see she had to get from Kamloops down to Vancouver quickly. Now she lives down there to care for Dayton who cannot be left alone for more than an hour.

Dayton was almost one of 28 Fatal Fentanyl overdose deaths this August 2016 in BC. Dayton was almost one of 94 Fatal Fentanyl overdose deaths of our young adults between the ages of 19-29 yrs old in BC in 2016. Dayton was also a friend of my son, Tyler Aaron Robinson who died back in January. So now my son Tyler is one of the total 332 Fatal Fentanyl overdose deaths in BC so far in 2016 (BC Coroner’s Report, November 2016).

Well today is Dayton’s 22nd Birthday! I am so happy that Dayton is alive! Dayton still has a lot of healing to do and that will require lots of support in various ways.

Once our loved ones are saved from an overdose, we need funding to create a triage of accommodation, treatment and recovery available for those who are ‘willing, waiting and worried’ that they may die before they get the help they need! Our children need preventative and continuous dignified Health Care. This Health Crisis is going to cost us Canadians money for years to come!

Parents across Canada are connecting to share and support each other. Many of us are shocked to see the lack of supports right across Canada. We need equitable healthcare for our children whether they are youths or adults! An overdose death could happen to anyone’s child! We need to keep our kids alive!

So every day I remember your closing remarks that I quickly tried to dictate while listening to the Opioid Conference online. Y ou were saying,

“Approach it from every angle..

Save people everyday on the street…

lets keep pushing one another…

wheels of gov’t move painfully slowly…

she can see the path forward…

given realities faced by a whole number of huge issues..

Push..

Address the real inequities in life lost…

Don’t ever stop challenging assumptions…

we have to get this right..."

Minister Jane Philpot

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein

Sherry Vaile Robinson, Kamloops, BC

Update from our moms in Winnipeg

Thing's are starting to go strong here in Manitoba. Our Fire Paramedic and Police are launching an awareness campaign. Our Minister of Health and Justice along with Police went to a high school to talk to kids about opioids and delivered a powerful message. Naloxone spray is now in the hands of the Manitoba R.C.M.P. and the Winnipeg Police Services, of our "Bear Clan" (a group of trained inner city volunteers), and it will soon be distributed widely all over Manitoba. It will be sold in Pharmacies and our "Street Connections" continue to train and hand out kits. A group of mothers of children that are struggling with addiction have been trained and have kits. This will save countless lives.

An officer who has lost a son, is giving presentations to fellow officers in Manitoba. He speaks about his families experience, informs his fellow officers about harm reduction, and shares the message I have been saying loud and clear: "if it could happen to my family it could happen to yours".

I'm proud of Manitoba, yes it's taken awhile, but people are listening and trying to come together. This has always been my message, not to blame but to work together to bring change and help to educate our young people about opioids and the risks. My next meeting is with our Mayor. I am hoping to bring my husband, and as well as the police officer who has lost a son and his wife.

I'd like to take a break but it's hard when thing's are really starting to happen. It has been two years since our first interview about loosing our son Jessie. It took a lot of hard work to get Manitoba on board, but the deaths and overdoses to Fentanyl and now Car-fentanyl left with us with no choice. Our community is coming forward and it's on the news everyday. Everything I learnt and talked about will slowly get implemented.

I have met some amazing people and families. And have learnt something from everyone I have met, e-mailed or had a conversation with over the phone. It is an amazing community working for change.

Hugs,

Arlene Kolb, Winnipeg, MB

Federal Opioid Conference

Ottawa, November 18, 2016

I travelled to Ottawa for the Federal Opioid Conference last week, November 17th and left Saturday November 19th. I did this for us, for Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH), in the names of all our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, our loved ones that we have lost or have been fighting for. But mostly, I did this for all the people in Canada who are at risk and/or suffer with drug addiction.

There were about 250 people invited to this conference, most of whom attended. On the side of doctors and scientists, law enforcement, and politicians there were many. NGOs such as ours were in sparse attendance. There were very few people who are actively using opioids or in recovery, in attendance.

On Thursday, the 17th I was part of the small delegation from B.C. which included the BC Premier, Christy Clark, Health Minister Terry Lake, Assistant Deputy Justice Minister Clayton Pecknold, Chief of BC Emergency Health Marilyn Oberg, addictions doctor and researcher, and director of the newly formed B.C. Centre for Substance Use, Dr. Evan Wood. In addition there was Mikaela Mamer, a 25 year old woman in recovery, and Judy Robertson, who has a stepson in active addiction.

The Premier had arranged a much sought after private meeting in the Parliament Building between us and Health Minister Jane Philpott and Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale. Much press, much security, and nervous waiting.

The meeting went very well. The federal ministers listened closely to talk of our children, the effects on families of addiction, the dangers of fentanyl, the frustrations for law enforcement and emergency services, the scientific evidence on medically assisted treatment, how mental health, the lack of doctors trained in addictions and accessible treatment and recovery beds which contribute to addiction and death. We specifically asked about the repeal of C2 which puts up barriers to safe injection sites (The Safe Community Act), and were told by Dr. Philpott that she is working on it but could not give a specific date – just ‘very soon’. No details were given.

I had laid out on the table all the photos I had of our sons and daughters. There were about twenty five photos. Those photos were the most powerful things in that room. All talk centered around the reality of us losing these kids; the fact that these represented ‘everyone’s children’ was clear.

When it was over in about an hour, we had been heard. The ministers know what is needed. After there were press conferences, interviews on CBC, CTV, radio and more TV. Awareness was at an all-time high.

The next day, Friday, was the actual Opioid Conference. It was 9 hours of presentations by addictions doctors, provincial health ministers and other provincial appointees, police, and heads of organizations such as the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, Pharmacists, Toxicology, First Nations Health, and so on. There were only three speakers with lived experience.

I was totally engaged all day, but it is not until today that I have been able to step back a bit and assess the experience critically. There was a massive amount of information delivered. The preponderance of it was on harm reduction measures. The over- prescribing of opioids was a hot topic. Education, alternative pain treatments, surveillance (data collection), statistics, supervised consumptions sites, naloxone and suboxone were on the table.

What was missing for me was the discussion on crisis management, recovery facilities, family centered treatment, stigma and attention to mental health and addiction. Also missing was the most important link of all – ending the failed, brutal war on drugs.

I said publicly on three different platforms, that we must end the war on drugs. That is, we must decriminalize and regulate opioids, cocaine and marijuana so that people, including those who are using, or addicted, or impacted by the drug cartels and mafias of the world, those who cannot receive the drugs they need both in the hospital setting and in private, are safe.
The whole experience was full, frustrating, informative, exhausting, in some part successful, and necessary.

I mentioned Moms Stop the Harm at every opportunity. I felt that you were all standing behind me. There will be progress but I do not yet see how it will roll out. When and if I get the report from the Summit, wherein the legislators met and discussed action, I will forward it to you all.

Leslie McBain

Speaking to university students about drug safety

Yesterday I gave another "Danny Talk" to students at MacEwan University where I also teach.
This was a message from one student after the talk: "Thank you so much for speaking up on this topic. Thank you so much for bringing this all to light. Thank you so much for challenging it. I can only hope that your group is heard and that organizations open their minds and realize that knowledge is power and focusing on harm reduction is what needs to happen."

It is always very rewarding to speak to students and to share our story, explain about the need for harm reduction and make recommendations to keep people safe. Speaking to students (future nurses and future educators) means to pay forward and to inform future practice. This is the third talk this semester and after every talk there are at least one of two students who have a friend or loved one who struggles with substance misuse. All these individuals promised to get a Naloxone kit for themselves and their loved ones.

Petra Schulz