Petra's speech from the International Overdose Awareness Day in Edmonton August 31, 2016

International Overdose Awareness Day Edmonton, August 31, 2016

Last year in Alberta we had the equivalent of a jet plane crash in overdose deaths from fentanyl alone.  It did not crash all at once, but silently and steadily in back alleys in the inner city, in the bathrooms of suburban malls, in prison cells and in our homes.

Since our son Danny died from an accidental overdose in 2014 the numbers have more than doubled, 272 in 2015, and all indications are that it will continue to get worse from here.

At the time we lost Danny, there was no discussion, few warnings, and little response from the health system. Thankfully this has changed and I applaud measures that have been put in place, such as provincial and federal initiatives to make the overdose antidote Naloxone available to those in need.

Naloxone has saved countless lives, and without it the numbers would be far greater. I hope that in the near future we will see further expanded harm reduction services that include medically supervised injection in this city and across the country.

Unfortunately, we waited too long to respond and what we are doing now is like having a cancer patient at stage 3 before we start treatment. If we do not want the death toll to double again, we have to get out of crisis mode.

What is needed is instead is a comprehensive strategy that includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. Currently in Canada 90% of all funding is spent on reducing the supply of drugs, the enforcement part, and only 10% on reducing the demand - the other 3 essential areas – prevention, treatment and harm reduction.  This is not working, as law enforcement struggles to keep up with enterprising criminal gangs that don’t care if a customer ends up dead.

We have waged a war on drugs for 50 years and it has translated into a war on our children. What do we have to show for? Billions have been spent globally on this war without measurable results, other than a mounting death toll. Harm reduction on the other hand is inexpensive and is proven to save lives. From a parent's perspective harm reduction is simple: "Keeping them alive so they can make a better decision on another day".

We need to focus our efforts on keeping and making people well rather than locking them up. We need to make sure the dealers have fewer customers.

Our family will continue live with the pain caused by the death of our youngest child, as do so many other families. As a society we are losing people in the prime of their lives to a cause that is so preventable.

International Overdose Awareness day is an opportunity to state publicly that the lives of our children mattered and that the continued loss of life to an overdose is not acceptable.