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