After a minor back injury when he was 23, Jordan Miller’s family doctor prescribed him a highly-addictive opioid called Oxycontin – for months. When Miller realized he had become addicted to the medication he told his doctor, but instead of receiving help, he was given the boot. Two years later his addiction killed him.
So when young Elliot Eurchuk of Victoria died last week from an opioid overdose, his story hit close to home for Jordan’s mother Leslie McBain.
“Elliot was younger but it really doesn’t matter how old a child is, losing a child is the most tragic, and dramatic, and terrible thing a parent can ever experience,” said McBain.
There is a lot of overlap in the two stories. Two young men were prescribed opioids after they were injured. Both were given months worth of the highly-addictive drugs. Both parents’ requests for alternatives to the opioids were ignored, and both were pushed out of the decision-making in their child’s health care. The two young men sought the drugs elsewhere once the prescriptions ran out with no ongoing support and in the end both men died of an opioid overdose.
McBain has been advocating for change ever since she lost Jordan in 2014 in order to save others from going through the torture she faced. She co-founded the Moms Stop The Harm network which seeks to change drug policy to support and reduce harm to drug users. McBain also supports and shares information with other parents facing the same fate. She says she deals with about six deaths a week where parents or siblings gets in touch.
“People ask me if this brings up my own grief. It’s a hard job. Anyone who is on the front lines of this is heavily impacted,” said McBain.
Someone asked her once if she does the work for her son and McBain said: “No, actually. I do it for your son.”
Moms Stop The Harm has about 450 members across Canada, mostly in B.C. and Alberta. They talk to all levels of government in their campaign to stop drug-related deaths.
McBain commends the federal government for both the recent Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act – which allows people to call in an overdose and not be in jeopardy of being arrested for being around drugs – and also for creating greater access across the country to naloxone, the opioid reversal drug, calling it “literally, a life saver.”
Provincially, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions was created in 2017 to help address the opioid crisis, with Judy Darcy as minister.
“Judy Darcy is very consultative and she gets it. She sees what the problem is and she’s working really hard to make movement on that by developing the Overdose Emergency Response Centre and Community Action Teams in about 18 jurisdictions around BC to help deal with the crisis,” said McBain.
Working as a Family Engagement Lead with BC Centre on Substance Use, McBain has helped to roll out a document called Close to Home, advocating for, among other things, families to be included in treatment.
“We believe most families and most parents are the best toolbox for the health care provider. Who knows the child better than their parents?” said McBain.
While the group has seen some positive changes in the last three years in terms of policy, the crisis is not slowing down. Their work is more important now than ever.
“We just have to watch the coroner’s statistics from every province, every month. It is not slowing down. It is not stopping,” said McBain.
“In the last four years since my son died, I’ve done a rough count and there has been more than 7000 people that have died in Canada of drug overdose. That is a profound statistic. How is it that we can’t do anything more than what we are doing, and faster. It’s unbelievable.”
She believes the true number is even higher.
One of the biggest pushes Moms Stop The Harm is working to accomplish is the decriminalization of people who use and carry drugs. Criminalization of drugs brings on huge stigma, says McBain, and she believes by decriminalizing it, a lot of factors contributing to this crisis would be mitigated.
“Each of us needs to check in on our own stigmatized thoughts about drug use. We need to lose the stigma, and have drug addiction considered like any other heath issue and have the conversation around it,” said McBain.
The other advice McBain has is for drug users or youth determined to experiment with drugs: Never use alone.
“People who use alone are at great, great risk. That was the case for Elliot in Oak Bay who was by himself. If you are alone and there is an overdose, there is no chance,” said McBain.
“I have encouraged kids to see having naloxone as something they can do to save a life,” said McBain.
In the wake of Elliot Eurchuk’s death, Island Health is also reminding everyone to not use alone, and to have a naloxone kit and be trained to use it.
Island Health will be conducting a review of the care Elliot received when he was at Island Health facilities.
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