Sheila Jennings, Toronto, ON
Sheila is the mother of three amazing young adults, one of whom is seeking recovery from street opioid use and numerous overdoses. Through the lessons learned from her personal experience and by sharing parts of her son’s experience that he consents to her sharing, Sheila has become an advocate for drug policy reform aimed at reducing the range of harms associated with substance use.
Since joining MSTH Sheila has advocated with and on behalf of people who use substances in a variety of ways. These include through communication with the Ontario Chapter of the College of Family Physicians. There, along with MSTH Lynne Carson, and the endorsement of NAMES, she advanced the view that Ontario family physicians as primary care providers ought to be offered training so that they can routinely prescribe suboxone to patients who need and want it. Another initiative she undertook was through Client Relations at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto where she asked CAMH to take steps to ensure that psychiatrists meeting with street opioid users with a history of homelessness ensure they receive referrals and treatment they require to survive. During this same time frame Sheila met with other advocates, she published with the MSTH Blog, and she attended talks given by experts, in order to learn as much as she could about the present opioid drug crisis.
In the spring she participated in a City of Toronto Community Dialogue: A Public Health Approach To Drugs, which addressed the question of decriminalization. Later she made a written deputation on behalf of MSTH in support of the recommendations from the Medical Officer of Health, which were that the Board of Health endorse the proposal of the Medical Officer of Health to call upon the Federal Government to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use, implement a pubic health response to the opioid crisis and convene a task force comprised of substance users, and other experts to assist with a suitable response. She has supported other such initiatives towards decriminalization and also initiatives towards safe injection site retention in Ontario.
Sheila participated in a Canadian Institute for Health Research workshop with Public Health Ontario. At the invitation of the Chair in Women’s Mental Health at York University she spoke to a graduate class of nursing and social work students on the role of Mothers and Nurses in the Opioid Overdose Crisis in Canada. In addition to her medical advocacy, Sheila is currently participating in an ongoing conversation she began with leadership in the Canadian live music industry, with a view hopefully to the implementation of a national standard for harm reduction services and practices across live festivals in Canada. In fall 2018 Sheila will present as part of a MSTH panel at the Federal Government of Canada Opioid Symposium/ Symposium sur les Opioïdes, being held in Toronto.
Sheila is currently researching the role that equine therapy and service dogs might play in the support of individuals in Ontario who use substances and who seek support.