Mothers who have lost children to drugs say: 'We are just like you.' (Nicole Richard/ Wax Pencil Imagery/ Moms Stop the Harm)

Moms grieving children lost to drugs campaign for change

A group of mothers across Canada has used crosses in a campaign to mark the loss of their children to substance use and to lobby for change. In the province of British Columbia alone, the coroner reports that 1,202 people have died of fatal drug overdoses so far in 2020. That compares to a total of 983 deaths in 2019. There were 16,000 such deaths in Canada in 2019.

‘We are just like you”

Moms Stop the  Harm is non-profit group of over 1,500 mothers whose children have died from drug use or are struggling with it. “We are the people grieving those lost to illicit drugs,” says Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm. “We are just like you. This can happen to anyone.”

Leslie McBain’s son, Jordan Miller, died age 25. His image was used on a poster. (Pattison Outdoor Group)

McBain’s son, Jordan Miller, was 25 years old when he died of an accidental drug overdose in February of 2014. She met two mothers in the same situation and founded the non-profit shortly after. It provides support to others but also lobbies hard to end the stigma, the harm and death related to substance abuse. 

Moms make the point many ways

In 2019, members in Kelowna, British Columbia decided to make white crosses and to take a photo of themselves to show 20 bereaved mothers who, as McBain says, “are left behind to grieve to the end of our lives.” The Kelowna mothers managed to get their message onto the sides of buses and digital billboards. Other chapters across the country adopted the crosses strategy and had their own photos taken. 

Mothers in Kelowna, B.C. managed to get poster put on the sides of buses. (Nicole Richards)

‘Don’t criminalize people’

The mothers want to see that people who use drugs are not criminalized. McBain says politicians and health care providers say they understand that drug addiction is not a choice but an illness, but their actions and legislation do not reflect that. She likens drug addiction to diabetes: diabetics who do not get their medication get sick and die. McBain says it is the same for people who are addicted to illicit drugs: if they do not get the right drugs in the right quantity they too can get sick and die. So, the group wants provisions made so that people can legally get the drugs they need safely. McBain also argues they should be treated equally by the health care system.

British Columbia is the province which was hardest hit by drug death and it is the one that first set up safe injection sites. Other provinces have been slower to set up harm reduction protocols.

Mothers made the crosses from simple materials to mark the passing of their children. (Rick Collins Photography)

Mothers are listened to

McBain  and other mothers have gained the respect and are listened to by the Canadian government, the department of health, as well as provincial and municipal authorities, all of which have been grappling with the skyrocketing number of drug deaths. They have worked together to try to  change drug policy to an approach based in science to insure a safe supply of pharmaceutical grade drugs for users and to decriminalize people who possess illicit substances for personal use. “Criminalizing people for seeking the drugs they need to survive is absurd and harmful,” says McBain.

Mothers also seek to ensure communities have supplies and services such as overdose-reversal medication and supervised consumption and overdose prevention services, and that they have treatment options.

The group also runs two support services: Healing Hearts is for those who have lost loved ones and Holding Hope is for those with loved ones who are still struggling with their use of illicit drugs.

McBain says the deaths in Canada from illicit drug use “have had a profound impact on our culture which is not fully recognized.” She says there are the grieving mums but also the fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents of those who have died who grieve and suffer from a terrible loss.

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