By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 8, 2023.
A representative from Moms Stop the Harm spoke on the opioid crisis of addiction and overdoses at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs session on Thursday.
The presentation, at the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization, discussed policies developed to stem addiction and drug poisonings, along with policies purported to assist individuals get to treatment as well as supports, advocacy, and highlighted solutions Moms Stop the Harm would like to see implemented.
“Moms Stop the Harm is very important. We provide support to families. We also provide support groups, people with lived experience of having a loved one either passed away or struggling with their substance use,” said Lethbridge representative Amber Jensen.
Jensen said Moms Stop the Harm feels an urgency to have action taken within the community to address overdose deaths.
“We need more action in our community to be taken. Lethbridge has far surpassed the number of deaths already in September, higher than a whole entire year previous to that. So we really need to do something things need to change.”
Jensen has spent 13 years working in the human services field, she holds a degree in psychology that she obtained at the University of Lethbridge, and she has co-authored a book titled “I am the opioid crisis.”
Jensen began the presentation with her personal back story of how she got involved with Moms Stop the Harm and her 12-year experience being a foster parent for high-risk youth who struggled with addiction.
Jensen talked about two youth who stayed with her until they were 18 years old before both died from drug overdoses.
“These are two of the reasons why I advocate with Moms Stop the Harm. And also, I started my own non-profit to help bridge the gap between youth and adulthood, especially for Indigenous children who seem to fall through the cracks a lot more,” Jensen explained.
Jensen said the drug crisis is not an opioid crisis, but rather a trauma crisis and street drug crisis.
“When we’re looking at the dark poisoning crisis, it’s not an opioid crisis. It’s a toxic street drug supply crisis. It’s not an addiction crisis. It’s a crisis of trauma.”
Jensen said Indigenous people are five times more vulnerable. And she shared statistics showing men in the trades to be more vulnerable to drug use.
“There’s one demographic that is most at risk. It’s men ages 25 to 39, who use alone, mostly indoors, 80 per cent in their own homes. And this is something interesting that I’m just learning now, certain professions are at a higher risk. So culinary trades and people living in camps away from their families are dying at higher rate,” said Jensen.
Jensen said users start because of trauma, mental pain, and childhood experiences which effect their hope for the future.
“Usually, it starts from a physical or a mental pain, trauma, adverse childhood experiences and a lack of hope. The majority of our loved ones who struggled with substance use also had mental health issues.”
Jensen showed statistics that say 21 Canadians die every day from overdoses.
“Most deaths occur in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Higher rates are also observed within other regions. One of those regions in Lethbridge. Most of them were young to middle-aged males. And the toxicity of street deaths continues to be a major driver of the crisis,” she said.
Jensen described the challenge Lethbridge faces along with local statistics.
“The opioid crisis has hit Lethbridge harder than other communities. Lethbridge has the highest per capita drug poisoning deaths of any municipality tracked by the government of Alberta. The city’s per 100,000 overdose death rates of 137.5 is more than double Medicine Hat has.”
Jensen said the pharmaceutical industry has played a role in the drug crisis. “They engaged in aggressive and misleading marketing practices that have been implicated in the rise of prescription opioids in North America. So the pharmaceutical industry and prescription practices have played a role,” said Jensen.
Jensen discouraged the increase of enforcement as a solution stating, “it doesn’t help the situation at all.” Jensen said treatment centres are not as effective as safe drugs, saying users can occasionally use to help them overcome their addiction.
“People can use occasionally, and they don’t need treatment. Millions of dollars have been invested into treatment beds. However, they’re still facing long wait times. These treatment centres are reporting on their outcomes, especially the follow up treatment centers that can be opened by anyone the sober living houses, they’re not regulated to aid people are still dying.”
Jensen said language and reducing the stigma people may have about individuals struggling to be very important to stop.
“The role of language and reducing stigma is very important. You’ll notice that I never call them addicts or junkies or things like that. We always use people-first language.”
Jensen reiterated the purpose behind Moms Stop the Harm .
“Mom Stop the harm is a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use, use related harms and deaths. We support 3,500 families Canada-wide. And our mission is to advocate to end substance use related stigma, harms and death. We provide peer support, and always welcome new families.”