Pubdate: Wed, 24 May 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Jennifer Howard (Jennifer Howard lives in Victoria.)
Page: A11


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.
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MAP posted-by: Matt