‘No handbook for parents’ when it comes to drug addiction

published on July 30, 2017 by Sarah Petrescu in Times Colonist

Jennifer Howard says every month when the toll of overdose-death statistics is released by the B.C. Coroners Service, she is swept by two major reactions.

“It triggers my loss of Robbie and makes me think of the tragedy in that family, of their pain,” said Howard, who lost her son Robert Cunningham to a fentanyl overdose in May 2016. He was 24, and died alone in his Shawnigan Lake apartment, having been introduced to drugs about six months before.

“On another level, it makes me so angry to see the number of deaths increase when we know how to solve this problem,” said Howard, citing better drug policy and treatment options as first steps. Tackling the misplaced moral judgment associated with drug use and addiction is another, she said.

With 640 deaths in the first five months of this year, 2017 is set to eclipse the record 967 overdose deaths in B.C. last year. More than 250 people on Vancouver Island have died of drug overdoses since the beginning of 2016. The statistics for June deaths will be released by the coroner next week.

Howard is part of a growing army of parents affected by the overdose crisis and advocating for change, not just for their own children, but for others.

“There is no handbook for parents supporting a child with addictions and mental-health issues. You learn in the trenches and you come together,” said Howard.

She was joined at a downtown coffee shop by other parents helping to organize Overdose Awareness Month in Victoria, which kicks off Monday at 5 p.m. in Centennial Square with a community photo of anyone affected by the crisis — families, first-responders, front-line workers — and photos of those they’ve lost. On Aug. 31, Overdose Awareness Day will be marked across the country with events in Victoria and Nanaimo.

The parents are part of an organization called Moms Stop the Harm, which has grown from three mothers from the Island and Alberta in 2016 to hundreds of parents across the country.

Nancy Murphy thanked Howard for her advocacy.

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