Helen Jennen's presentation to the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

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.

Helen Jennens,

Whistler, BC, June 3, 2017

The pain of losing your child to an overdose

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.

Jennifer Howard

Times Colonist, MAY 24, 2017

Families affected by overdose crisis call on provincial parties to commit new cannabis tax revenue to substance use treatment and prevention

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

National anti-stigma campaign is needed

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.

MSTH founding member Leslie McBain meeting with Jane Philpott, Federal Minister of Health

MSTH founding member Leslie McBain meeting with Jane Philpott, Federal Minister of Health

On Jessie's Birthday, we were honored in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly

“…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.

Manitoba regional leaders Arlene Kolb and Chris Dobbs

Manitoba regional leaders Arlene Kolb and Chris Dobbs

Why did it take me 3 years to get my Naloxone kit?

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.

Giving the gift of life - organ donation

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!

Fentanyl is just the symptom. Who caused the crisis?

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?

Proud to Carry

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.

Visiting our children's graves

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.

I drove my son to to buy fentanyl to keep him alive while he was waiting for treatment.

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.

Kind regards,

Regan Magnus

Like a bunch of horses hitched to a wagon, all pulling in a different direction.

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.

This morning, more than one year after he died , I finally moved Nathan’s shoes.

Rosalind Davis, March 11, 2017

This morning I finally moved Nathan’s shoes. For over a year they have remained at the front door where he left them. Well, not exactly. He always left them in the middle of entrance where I would trip over them. But I have forgiven him for that. Forgiving myself may take a bit longer as I remember our conversations from the past…

“My skin is crawling” Nathan tells me. I stare at him so confused. “It is what my anxiety feels like; like my skin is crawling and I want to escape my body.” In my head, I think it sounds like a melodramatic way to describe what I call “nervous tummy” – something that can easily be remedied by clasping my hands and taking ten deep breaths.

Fast forward a few months. “Tell me what waking up feels like. Why is it so hard?” the grief counsellor asks me.

I’m shaking my head at my own advice: ten deep breaths? It’s like I’m suffocating. Sometimes I scream. Sometimes I can’t.

I answer, “Because I remember he is dead. And my skin starts crawling.”

…We may never know what someone else feels or why they handle situations differently. What we do know is that they took a different path to get to that point and they walked in different shoes. Sometimes all we can do is cross paths without judgment or advice. Sometimes we can walk beside them. Sometimes we can offer our hand.

To whoever finds Nathan’s shoes, I pray all the paths you cross on your life walk will be gentle and kind.

And to Nathan, wherever you are, thank you. Thank you for crossing paths with me. Happy Birthday Nathan. Today, I am celebrating your path and the brief walk we took together.

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,


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".