Safe-injection sites save lives

Re. “Injection sites get tepid response in poll,” Jan. 18

Since our youngest son died from an accidental overdose to fentanyl in 2014, I have become an advocate for measures that reduce the harm that come from drug use. People who struggle with addiction don’t have a “choice” to just stop taking the drug they have become dependent on without access to treatment that is in very short supply.

Supervised injection services are one piece of the harm-reduction puzzle. In my conversations with even the greatest skeptics I found that most people support these services when I explain why they exist and what they do for people.

If the question is, “Do you support sites where people inject illegal drugs?” you get a different answer than to the question, “Do you support a health-care service that prevents overdose deaths, cuts infection risk, saves health-care costs, reduces public disorder (e.g. public injecting, unsafe needle disposal) and increases the number of people going into treatment by 30 per cent?” Supervised injection services are proven to do all these things.

As a mom, the most important aspect of harm reduction is to keep them alive, so they have a chance to make a better decision on another day.

Petra Schulz, founding member of Moms Stop The Harm, Edmonton

Published in the Edmonton Journal, January 20, 2017

Edmonton Group Seeking Support for Supervised Injection Services

City councillors express support for safe consumption sites in Edmonton

Metro News Edmonton, December 5, 2016

Petra Schulz is a member of the coalition Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton. The group presented their proposal to a City Council committee in preparation for public engagement in the new year.

"The solutions are there, they're simple and they're inexpensive," Petra told council.

City councillors express support for safe consumption sites in Edmonton

Edmonton takes controversial safe injection sites to the public

Edmonton Journal, December 5, 2016

“Harm reduction means keeping them alive so they can make a better decision another day,” said Petra Schulz, a mother who lost her son Danny to a fentanyl overdose.

Edmonton takes controversial safe injection sites to the public

Safe injection site may have saved life of 'passionate chef,' mother says

CBC Edmonton, December 5, 2016

"We blame it on the victim, we blame it on the person. That is why people like our son have such a hard time reaching out and getting the help they need," she said.
"My story is about telling that people who need these sites, people who struggle with opioid addiction, are people just like everybody else."

Safe injection site may have saved life of 'passionate chef,' mother says

Edmonton councillors to discuss safe-injection sites

Global News Edmonton, December 4, 2016

“For me, supervised consumption services, they are one piece of the puzzle in harm reduction and harm reduction is what would have saved Danny’s life. If the harm reduction measures we talk about now had been available to him, he would still be here today.” -Petra Schulz

Edmonton councillors to discuss safe-injection sites

Speaking to university students about drug safety

Yesterday I gave another "Danny Talk" to students at MacEwan University where I also teach.
This was a message from one student after the talk: "Thank you so much for speaking up on this topic. Thank you so much for bringing this all to light. Thank you so much for challenging it. I can only hope that your group is heard and that organizations open their minds and realize that knowledge is power and focusing on harm reduction is what needs to happen."

It is always very rewarding to speak to students and to share our story, explain about the need for harm reduction and make recommendations to keep people safe. Speaking to students (future nurses and future educators) means to pay forward and to inform future practice. This is the third talk this semester and after every talk there are at least one of two students who have a friend or loved one who struggles with substance misuse. All these individuals promised to get a Naloxone kit for themselves and their loved ones.

Petra Schulz

Opioid-related emergency room visits 57% higher in Alberta than Ontario: report

Global News Edmonton, November 16, 2016

“It is heart-wrenching to see the numbers,” she said. “But while these numbers are high, the actual numbers are still far greater… There are various situations where people overdose and in many cases they don’t make it to the hospital so they would not have been captured in these statistics.” MSTH Petra Schulz in her interview with Global News.

Opioid-related emergency room visits 57% higher in Alberta than Ontario: report

Petra’s Presentation at the RCMP, Calgary Police, Edmonton Police, and ASLET Fentanyl Conference

Calgary– October 17-18, 2016, 

Edmonton – October 20-21, 2016

Petra Schulz was one of the invited speakers at the conference and presented in a session called “Health’s Side of the Fentanyl Crisis”, together with the Acting Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Marlisss Taylor and .Mathew Wong,  from the harm reduction program Streetworks. 

We lost her youngest child Danny to an accidental Fentanyl overdose in 2014. Danny was 25 years old.  Through the lessons learned from my personal experience and by sharing Danny's story I have become an advocate for drug policy reform aimed at reducing the harm associated with substance use. I hope that the expansion of harm reduction services in Alberta and the rest of Canada will leave a legacy in memory of our son.  Danny felt strongly about organ donation, now he is donating his story. 

What I and other mothers of our network, Moms Stop the Harm, have learned can be summarized in 8 messages. 

Danny was in recovery when one more pill, which he thought was a fake OxyContin, but was in fact Fentanyl, took his life two and a half years ago.  We did not know about the increased risk in recovery, when the person’s tolerance for the drug is lowered and when they are less informed about the scene and dangerous drugs. 

He was one of the early victims, before Fentanyl made the news, and before there were any health warnings. Those came months after Danny died, first from the RCMP and much later from health services. 

Danny’s drug dependence started with OxyContin, but he had to switch to street drugs, mostly heroin, when OxyContin was made tamper proof. We can learn at lot from the reformulation of Oxycontin, and the emergence of Fentanyl, Carfentanil and W18. Every time we take a drug away and don’t help those using, we drive them to more dangerous drugs.  It is like the person who struggles with OCD and compulsively washes their hands. We can ban one brand of soap after the other, but the compulsion will remain if left untreated.

After Danny died we decided to be open about the cause of his death. We wanted to end the silence and the stigma. Friends and family, his workplace were surprised. Danny did not look like an “addict” - a word I don’t care for much.  How does a person who struggles with addiction look like? In most cases, it is an invisible condition. Danny came from a supportive family and he did not grow up to be a substance user. My goal was not to be a harm reduction advocate. I too was once a soccer mom. 

Message 1: Overdoes can affect anyone

When Danny died he had been in recovery for a year and a half. He worked as a chef in one of Edmonton’s best restaurants, he lived in a downtown apartment and he had taken a trip to California with his dad. 

What worked for Danny was substitution treatment with Methadone combined with counselling, which we paid for privately. The only thing the public health system offered was a list of 12 step groups, that would not have taken him on the methadone. What did not work was the fact that both he and we were keen to have him “drug free” and he did not stay on the Methadone long enough to be stable. 

For a while seemed we had the old Danny back, the kid I knew before he became dependant on drugs. On the outside, he looked like a successful young man, but he was struggling. 

His addiction started as his way of dealing with his severe social anxiety, but there were other risk factors: A diagnosis with a learning disability as a child, being gay, working in an environment were drug use is prevalent. He told me once that after he took the drug he could just walk into any room and just be himself, and I wondered if being yourself is too much to ask. Should we not help young people like Danny, so that their mental health issue is addressed and they don’t turn to dugs? In our mothers group, almost all the children who died had mental health issues.

Another important risk factor is how the user takes the drug. Danny had progressed to intravenous injection, which has the highest risk of overdose. 

Message 2: Know the risk factors

We learned a lot since he died –  the missing ingredient for him and for us was harm reduction, which is best kept secret in additions treatment. So much of what is done in the addictions field is based on morals or on societal norms, rather than best practice. Despite the evidence to the contrary the single focus of information for parents and users is to get “clean” - another term I don’t care for much, as people who take drugs are not “dirty. People relapse and we did not learn about potential lifesaving solutions, such as Naloxone and how substitution therapy should work, until it was too late.  

I hope you will all carry Naloxone, or if you are not able to carry, at least know how it works. Naloxone does not solve the problem of substance misuse, but our rates of death from overdose would be much worse if it was not available. 

Message 3: Harm reduction saves lives

As a society, we need a paradigm shift away from treating substance use as a criminal justice problem, to approaching it as a health and human rights issue. 

Our mothers group calls for the decriminalization of personal use and possession of illicit drugs, so people get the help they need. This might a big shift for society, but decriminalizingpossession has been shown to save lives and reduce crime in several European countries, where it is practiced.  Since decriminalization in Portugal, rates of drug use have not increased, far fewer people arrested and incarcerated for drugs, more people receive drug treatment, incidence of HIV/AIDS and drug-induced deaths have been significantly reduced. 

Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm to the individuals, their families and to society, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment. And it does nothing to reducing the supply of illicit drugs. 

Message 4: Support, Don’t punish.

Danny was as safety conscious as he could be, doing something very dangerous. He always bought new needles, but that day he was home alone, so nobody could assist him when he overdosed. I can’t tell you how many times I imagine myself finding him in time with a Naloxone kit in my purse. I can visualize what I would have done, but never got a chance to do. 

Message 5: Do not do drugs alone, have a safe observer

These rules are more important since the arrival of new and more toxic drugs, such as Fentanyl, Carfentanil and W18, that have changed the landscape of drug use.  Before Fentanyl, the people were most at risk were people like Danny who are dependant on opioids.  

It is a well-established fact that most users are not addicted to the drugs they take and that most people who use, never develop a dependence. For those individuals, the situation has drastically changed with toxic synthetic opioids being mixed into recreational drugs. These occasional users are also less educated about the risk. Human nature being what it is there will always be people who take drugs. What we need are good tools and sound education, especially for young people, not only on the dangers of drugs, but also on staying safe, much like we teach about safe sex and drinking and driving. 

Message 6: Know what an overdose looks like - recognize the signs of an overdose, know how to respond. Have a Naloxone kit.  

I do not need to explain to this group how important timely intervention is when someone stops breathing. I know two mothers whose children would be here today if their friends would have called 911.  We need to pass Bill C-224 Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act (currently at the report stage - House) so no one is charged or arrested when someone overdoses.

Message7: Don’t Run, call 911. 

People do recover from substance use if we use the right treatment approaches, combined with harm reduction measures to keep people alive. Some people simply outgrow their dependence when they mature or life circumstance changes. 

Message 7: Recovery is possible

Danny came close to that point. He had dreams of joining the armed forces. He wanted to present a cooking workshop at Camp firefly, a summer camp for LGBTQ youth that he had once attended. He wanted to talk to his head chef about creating job opportunities for marginalized youth, and he wanted to plant more fruit trees at our cottage.

He is on our mind every day and I try to think about the loving, caring son he was and the great meals he cooked. I can’t help to also think about how different the outcome could have been. 

Message 8: To me as a mom harm reduction is simple – to keep them alive so they can make a better decision on another day. 

Alberta 'at best holding steady' against deadly fentanyl crisis, justice minister warns

CBC News Oct 17, 2016

Conference for police, justice and health-care workers gets underway in Calgary

MSTH Petra Schulz was one of the speakers at a Fentanyl conference for police and first responders in Calgary and Edmonton, speaking to more than 700 delegates about the importance of changing from a criminal justice to a human rights and health approach.

Alberta 'at best holding steady' against deadly fentanyl crisis, justice minister warns

Carfentanil, a drug 100X more powerful than fentanyl, confirmed in deaths of 2 Albertans

Global News, October 8, 2016

After the discovery of Carfentanil in Alberta Petra Schulz was asked to comment. She points out that we have to shift our focus from specific drugs to proven harm reduction measures that help those who are struggling with substance use.

Carfentanil, a drug 100X more powerful than fentanyl, confirmed in deaths of 2 Albertans

Fentanyl epidemic a public health crisis

Re. “Swann urges province to declare public health emergency over fentanyl,” 

Edmonton Journal, Letter to the Editor, Sept. 8

We lost our son Danny (age 25) to an overdose in 2014, and I strongly support Dr. David Swann’s call for the declaration of a public health emergency over the number of overdose deaths in this province.

Getting accurate real time numbers and being able to respond rapidly to the crisis is one of the reasons the province of B.C. declared a public health emergency in April.

This is not about giving special powers to police, as the Alberta’s Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne states, but about allowing for flexible and innovative strategies to save lives.

What would we do if we had this number of deaths for any other condition? We need to know the facts and we need the province to invest strategically in harm reduction initiatives, such as opioid replacement programs and supervised injection sites.

Harm reduction initiatives give people a chance to make a better decision on another day. Dead people never recover and we need to give our kids a fighting chance.

Petra Schulz, Edmonton

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.

Alberta families of those killed by illegal drugs call for preventive action to stem growing number of deaths

Edmonton Journal, August 31, 2016

As people, including MSTH supporters Amy Graves, Lowell Calahasen-Evans and Rick Schulz clutched candles and framed photos of loved ones Wednesday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day at the Alberta legislature, newly released provincial statistics show fentanyl-related fatalities are on the rise. MSTH Petra Schulz spoke at the event and demanded an invest in harm reduction and an end to the war on drugs.

Alberta families of those killed by illegal drugs call for preventive action to stem growing number of deaths