Pubdate: Thu, 05 Oct 2017
Source: Port Colborne Leader (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland
Author: Paul Forsyth


Mothers galvanize regional politicians with powerful stories of loss
of kids to overdoses

NIAGARA - Wilma Thompson was hearing about the horrific death toll the
opioid crisis sweeping across the country was having, so she pulled
her daughter Jaena, age 19, aside last year.

"I said please don't ever try this stuff: it will kill you," the St.
Catharines mom said. "She said 'mom, I would never do that.' "

Two months later, Jaena didn't answer repeated calls to her phone. Her
family called 911 and emergency responders found her dead in her
apartment. Of an opioid overdose.

Thompson and four other Niagara moms who have lost sons and daughters
to opioid overdoses, most as recently as last year, brought their
powerful message of wrenching loss and their burning desire to ensure
no other families have to endure the same torment to regional
headquarters on Tuesday.

They were determined to get regional councillors and mayors to join
their fight to fix a system that they say failed their vulnerable children.

Their stories had a galvanizing impact on politicians on the region's
public health and community services committee, who unanimously agreed
to a call from Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati for the region to
taking the lead role in co-ordinating numerous other agencies and
health organizations in "all out massive action" to combat the crisis
that's now reached Ontario after devastating countless lives on the
West Coast.

Sandi Walker Tantardini of Beamsville said her son Scott took karate,
played hockey, took swimming lessons and ran marathons. "At one time
he owned his own home, had a beautiful fiance and a bright future,"
she said.

Then the powerful opioid pain medicine fentanyl got its claws into
him. "He lost it all," said Walker Tantardini.

Scott underwent numerous treatments for addiction in Ontario and
Calgary, fighting his demons tenaciously and achieving 21 months of
abstinence before relapsing. He overdosed at age 28 last August.

Ann Minors of Vineland lost her son John Carrigan to an overdose last
November. He was 27.

The grieving mothers, part of the new Moms Stop the Harm group, issued
a plea for the politicians to take the lead on initiatives such as
fighting for a safe injection site in Niagara - something that can be
time consuming to get provincial approval - combating the stigma
attached to drug addiction, and rapid treatment plans immediately upon
request for substance users when they issue a call for help.

Jennifer Johnston of St. Catharines said her son Jonathan was working
on becoming a world-class chef when the 25-year-old thought he was
taking his usual dose of heroin he was addicted to in the early
morning hours of April 20, 2016. It was in fact 99 per cent fentanyl,
a drug that can kill in tiny portions.

"He collapsed on a dirty Toronto sidewalk," she said, her voice choked
with emotion. "Never in one million years did I think this would
happen to my intelligent, intuitive, charming, success driven son."

She begged the regional politicians to take action.

"We need to do this or an entire generation will be decimated," said
Johnston. "Our kids are dying in droves. We've all see the news
stories: death, destruction chaos, shattered families

She and the other moms blamed the stigma of drug addiction for
government inaction.

Johnston told reporters it's astounding the opioid deaths haven't been
ruled a national health crisis, with the country's chief public health
officer saying more than 2,800 Canadians died from opioid-related
causes in 2016 and that number is still growing. By contrast, the SARS
(severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak of 2003-2004 killed just
44 people nation-wide, she said.

"It's (addiction) a chronic disease, not a moral failure," she

Judith Rossman of Fonthill had a heart-to-heart chat well into the
night with her 21-year-old son Noah Rossman-Kurland about his drug use
and they said goodnight. The next morning - on his grandmother's
birthday - she found him dead at her home of an overdose.

"I feel like I lost my soulmate," she said. "It's too late for us,
(but) we're doing this to help other people."

Diodati said it's "unthinkable" what the mothers and their families
have gone through, but praised them for sharing their painful stories
rather than grieving in private.

"You spread out to make a difference," he said. "These stories that
you're sharing here, that makes it real. That hits me right in the

Diodati said it's crucial that the region take the lead on
co-ordinating a strategy to combat opioid addiction, and stressed
getting at kids before they're in high school with education and
awareness on the risks of the powerful medications is key.

It's terrifying to hear of young people sharing prescription drugs
casually, often without even knowing what they're taking, said
Diodati. "It's Russian roulette," he said.

The committee backed Diodati's call for public health to consult with
agencies in Western Canada that have more experience with the opioid
crisis and to quarterback a co-ordinated strategy on prevention and
education with partners such as Niagara Regional Police, Niagara
Emergency Medical Services, the school boards, mental health
organizations, Niagara Health, Hamilton Health Sciences and the
mothers' opioid group.

"We can be an example for the rest of the country," said

The mothers agreed to join the region and its partners in the
co-ordinated strategy.

Niagara Falls Coun. Bob Gale, chair of the Niagara Regional Police
service board, said their input is key, but asked the mothers to not
get disheartened at the time it could take. "It might be a pipe dream,
but we'd like to try our best to stop this," he said. "We're all
united on this."

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Valerie Jaeger noted public health is
already a member of the Niagara opioid network, a joint initiative of
about 20 partner agencies set up recently to prepare for the opioid
onslaught. But she warned a group with 20 representatives in Niagara
won't in itself be enough to stop the opioid crisis.

"This will require buy-in and tentacles to spread throughout our
society to even get a small handle on it," she said.

The grieving mothers admitted they were nervous about standing up
before the politicians, having never done it before. But they said
they were stunned by the warm embrace the elected officials gave their
call for action.

"The reception was mind blowing," said Walker Tantardini.

The mothers said stepping up to join the fight against opioid
addiction is part of their healing process and combating the constant
second guessing over what more they could have done to save their children.

"It changes you," said Walker Tantardini. "It shatters your world."
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