A group of Canadian families devastated by the overdose deaths of loved ones has met for the first time to share their stories and plans for action.
On Friday, members of Moms Stop the Harm arrived at the Summerland Waterfront Resort Hotel to launch a weekend of conversation and advocacy in response to the North American overdose crisis. Until now, much of the group’s work and communication has been limited to social media and conference calls.
Founder Leslie McBain, who lost her son Jordan in 2014 to opioid overdose and is consulting with the B.C. government on solutions to the crisis, said more than a dozen parents and family members from B.C. and the Prairies are attending.
The focus of the group’s work is saving lives through harm reduction. Its members want more supervised-injection sites and increased access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. They’re demanding more addictions services for the people most vulnerable to overdose as dealers continue to cut street drugs of all kinds with deadly adulterants, particularly the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
This weekend, members will discuss drug issues in their provinces and share ideas for solutions before meeting with government, health and police officials to analyze the current response to the crisis.
The provincial government declared a public-health emergency in April and formed a joint-task force in June in response to the crisis. But McBain believes work is needed to bring more treatment beds to B.C. immediately.
“I think people are starting to come around to the fact that what we have is a public-death crisis and it’s perpetrated by fentanyl, but fentanyl is really just the Big Bad Wolf,” said McBain, a Pender Island resident. “The parallel problem is that there are not enough services for the people who are addicted.”
Sandra Tully, whose son Ryan struggled with addiction and died in January after overdosing on a counterfeit OxyContin pill laced with fentanyl, travelled from Kamloops to meet the other Moms Stop the Harm parents, who have “been an unbelievable support system” for her.
“There is a strength in numbers and we will be a loud force to be reckoned with. We have lost our children and we don’t want anyone else to lose their child to this,” she said.
Kelowna resident Helen Jennens, who lost two sons to overdoses — Tyler to fentanyl in February and Rian to prescription drugs in 2011 — has long advocated for improvements in addiction treatment and believes fentanyl has created a whole new set of problems.
“The fentanyl crisis, I think it just knocked the wind out of everybody’s sails,” she said. “It’s a death sentence to use drugs.”
In recent months, communities across B.C. have been pressuring government and health authorities to establish supervised-injection sites in cities hit hard by overdose, including Victoria, Surrey and Kamloops.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. has increased access to the opioid-addiction treatment Suboxone and health authorities have bolstered naloxone training and distribution. Last month, Premier Christy Clark announced $10 million in funding for a substance-use research centre and task-force solutions.
But Tully said there is frustration with the speed of the government’s response. With an average of two people dying of illicit-drug overdose each day in B.C., she believes groups establishing unsanctioned injection sites deserve praise for not waiting for permission to help.
“We’re going to have to break rules, we’re going to have to ignore some of the policies to save a life,” Tully said.
McBain said families who have lost loved ones to overdose are welcome to connect with Moms Stop the Harm through momsstoptheharm.com.
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