Canadian True Crime - 144 The Truth About Canada's Opioid Crisis—Part 2

Episode Date: September 6, 2023

Content warning: this episode includes mentions of Indigenous trauma, residential schools and the 60s scoop.[ Part 2 of 3 ] Through the stories of four young Canadians from completely different walks ...of life—who all met the same devastating fate, we explore how Canada got itself into the mess that is the opioid crisis. In this episode, you'll hear the stories of Skye Crassweller and Morgan Goodridge.Resources for those affected by the Opioid Crisis:Provincial Resources - Moms Stop the HarmOpioid Resources - Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction About Opioids - Canada.caMore info:SKYE CRASSWELLER (REPORT): Skye’s Legacy: A focus on belonging - Office of the Representative for Children and Youth MORGAN GOODRIDGE: After her son died of an overdose, this woman wants to fight opioid crisis with urgency of COVID-19, CBC Radio, 2020Overdose: Heartbreak and Hope in Canada's Opioid Crisis, by Benjamin PerrinCanadian True Crime donates monthly to help those facing injustice.In honour of August 31, International Overdose Awareness day, we’ve donated to Moms Stop the Harm.Release schedule: Part 3 will be released to all September 12. For premium feed subscribers, it will be available ad-free September 7.Listen ad-free and early: CTC premium feeds are available on Amazon Music (included with Prime), Apple Podcasts, Patreon and Supercast, giving you access 24 hours early without the ads. Please note: case-based episodes will always be available to all, we will never put them exclusively behind a paywall.Full credits, resources, information sources and music credits:See the page for this episode at Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

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Starting point is 00:01:33 There really is no avoiding those mindless chores like laundry and yard work, but I just pop in my earbuds and I'm off to a magical story land where I can turn chore time into me time. And the home of storytelling is, where you'll find all your favorite Canadian voices and some additional motivation and inspiration for your daily life too. Right now I'm all about listening to memoirs. I love that they're often narrated by the author themselves, so not only do you get to hear their story in their words, but you get to hear it in their own voice too, which can be really powerful.
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Starting point is 00:03:35 It's not for everyone. Please take care when listening. This is part two of a three-part series. An additional content warning. This episode includes mention of Indigenous trauma, residential schools and the 60s group. If you or someone you know has been affected by the opioid crisis, support is available. Please see the show notes. In part 1, we showed that for decades the medical and scientific communities have consistently found that a health-based approach to substance use saves lives, increases life expectancy,
Starting point is 00:04:21 and results in net savings for taxpayers. Yet governments across the board continue to favour an approach driven by abstinence and reinforced by criminalisation, even as the data consistently demonstrates it doesn't work. In this and the final part, we'll explore why and how an increasing number of young Canadians are seeking oblivion to escape their pain. And why they often feel they have no choice but to turn to the illicit drug market run by organized crime. That unregulated drug market contaminated with the tiniest amounts of deadly fentanyl is now responsible for the deaths of about 20 Canadians each day and has actually affected life expectancy. We have shared the story of Sophie Brin, written and narrated by her mother Mary.
Starting point is 00:05:17 Sophie lived with PTSD, depression and anxiety after her father's traumatic death when she was a child. She sought treatment over a number of years with some success, but ultimately, the limitations of a deeply inadequate mental healthcare system meant she wasn't able to find or access the treatment she needed to stay alive. Sophie bring passed away on Wednesday, March 4th of 2020. She was just 27 years old. We also shared the story of Seth MacClain, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder when he was a teenager. Prescription medications didn't give him any relief and made him feel worse
Starting point is 00:05:57 and feeling helpless he chose to self-medicate. In July of 2020, 31-year-old Seth was diagnosed with a fever and he was a teenager. Prescription medications didn't give him any relief and made him feel worse and feeling helpless he chose to self-medicate. In July of 2020, 31-year-old Seth passed away at the Toronto Homeless Shelter where he'd been staying. Despite the shelter having his next-of-kin details on file, there was no attempt made to contact them, and by the time Seth's family had learned what had happened, he had already been buried in an unmarked grave. In this episode, we share two more stories of young people lost to the opioid crisis in completely different ways. When Skycrasseweller died on her 17th birthday in Nainimo, British Columbia, there was no next of kin to call.
Starting point is 00:06:53 Her family was already fragmented, and tragically, her own mother had died just nine months earlier. Sky's life was thoroughly investigated and documented in a report called Sky's life was thoroughly investigated and documented, and a report called Sky's Legacy, a focus on belonging, which was presented to the British Columbia legislature in July of 2021. The report's author is Dr. Jennifer Charles Worth, British Columbia's representative for children and youth, responsible for investigating issues within the provinces, child and youth welfare system, and reporting back to the government ministry with recommendations for improvement. Dr. Charlesworth's report about Sky Crasweller shows another side of the opioid crisis. It paints an all-too-familiar portrait of a young indigenous person who experiences a lack of
Starting point is 00:07:46 connection and belonging to people, place, culture. And this results in pain, sadness, distress, risk, and poorer life outcomes." Quote, Sky wasn't born until 2000, four years after the last Canadian residential school closed its doors, but she too was removed from her mother, sister, extended family and culture as she became part of what many have described as the modern-day residential school, the child welfare system. This is the story of Sky Crasuella. She was born to Marnie Crasuella, a DNA woman whose family had been part of the Tetlit Gwitchen band in the Northwest Territories for many generations.
Starting point is 00:08:34 Marnie was one of an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children who were removed from their families and communities during the 60s scoop. The Canadian government was still invested in a plan to accelerate the westernization of indigenous children and residential schools was still a part of it, along with a new strategy, placing them with white middle class families instead. Marnie Crasweller was one of many children
Starting point is 00:09:02 taken from their families, often without their knowledge or consent, and adopted out to a non-indigenous family. This strategy is now referred to as the 60s scoop, and it's well-established that survivors have faced a multitude of challenges and long-term impacts, ranging from loss of heritage, connection and cultural identity to low-sulfur steam. Many adopted children didn't learn about their true heritage until later in life, and many reported physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from the families they were placed
Starting point is 00:09:38 with. The report on SkyCrasuella indicates that after her mother Marnie was adopted out, she was subjected to severe abuse over an extended period of time by someone known to her. But even when children were adopted into relatively caring families, they still felt a lack of belonging and connection. And tragically, but not surprisingly, studies show survivors of the 60s scoop have faced similar outcomes to those who survived the residential school system, including overwhelming rates of suicide, depression, hazardous use of drugs and alcohol, criminality, domestic
Starting point is 00:10:19 violence, poverty, unsafe or unstable housing, and other social problems. And that leads to another statistic so outrageous, it's almost hard to fathom. Indigenous adults represent just 4% of the Canadian population, but almost 30% of the people in jail. While policies and practices have shifted over time, the significant over-representation of Indigenous children in government care remains a disturbing reality across the country
Starting point is 00:10:52 today. According to the 2021 census, Indigenous children make up just 7.7% of the population in Canada, but 53.8% of the children in foster care. Let that sink in for a minute. It forms the backdrop for stories like that of Marnie Cressweller and her daughter, Skye. Marnie was known as a gifted artist who created beautiful quilts, paintings, beadwork and medicine bags. Friends and neighbors would describe her as smart and articulate, with an awesome sense
Starting point is 00:11:30 of humour. She was generous and she had friends who loved her. But Marnie was not well. She developed serious difficulties with mental health and substance use. When she had her first daughter, Olivia, in 1998, the Ministry of Children and Family Development placed the baby for adoption with a may-t friend of Marnies, citing safety concerns.
Starting point is 00:11:57 Two years later, Skye was born, and she remained with her mother as a baby. But by the time Skye was two, Marnie's mental health had deteriorated to a point where she was temporarily hospitalized for being at high risk of suicide. The next year, Marnie moved to Vancouver and enrolled Skye in a preschool, but one day she failed to pick her daughter up. Skye was placed in care for three, with the help of the Aboriginal Mother Centre
Starting point is 00:12:28 Society, while Marnie attended a residential drug treatment program. After Sky was returned to her mother under a supervision order, they moved to Campbell River on Vancouver Island. But by 2005, Marnie was struggling with substance use again and requested that Sky be placed under a voluntary care agreement while she focused on her own recovery. After two months with a non-indigenous foster family, Sky was returned to her mother, but it wasn't long before she was sent back. Marnie was with a new partner and experiencing domestic violence.
Starting point is 00:13:11 The pair were reunited about a month later, but by the time Sky was age 6, she was back in foster care at her mother's request. After that, ministry staff briefly lost contact with Marnie and Skye was legally removed from her care. Marnie spent time in Victoria on Vancouver Island, and then she moved back to the mainland, where she settled in Vancouver's downtown east side neighborhood. It's often been referred to as Ground Zero in Canada's opioid crisis, and Sky would never see her mother again.
Starting point is 00:13:58 It was always Marnie's wish for Sky to be placed with the matey friends who had adopted her older daughter. This was what Sky wanted too. After several years of instability, she dearly wanted to join her older sister, as a member of this family who were living in Alberta. Plans for this permanent move got underway, in collaboration with the Roots program, whose mandate is to ensure that indigenous children in care retain ties toots program, whose mandate is to ensure that indigenous children in care retain ties to their family, community, heritage, culture, traditions and spiritualities. Sky began communicating with her older sister
Starting point is 00:14:36 Olivia and prospective adoptive mother by phone. They came to visit her. She was told she would go to live with them at the end of the school year 2007. But by the following November, nothing had happened. According to the report Sky's legacy, the adoption ultimately fell through because the ministry learned that the adoptive mother had quit her job in Calgary and moved to Lethbridge, Alberta. In their assessment, the mother had withholding information that could negatively impact sky, and the sudden movement that a whole new assessment was needed. When sky learned of the failed plan, she reportedly told her foster mother that no one wants her so there's no reason to be around
Starting point is 00:15:26 and that she shouldn't even be on this earth. Sky was just seven years old. She wasn't permitted to see her mother money because of her own substance use. But a ministry worker made a baffling decision to sever that relationship as well. Documentation included in the report states that sky was vulnerable after the adoption disruption. In quote, her relationship with her sibling is an important one and should be preserved, but it should be well researched and sky should be in a stronger frame of mind before contact is re-initiated. It's unclear what kind of intensive research was needed to enable two young siblings to have contact with each other,
Starting point is 00:16:15 and there's no evidence that this decision was ever revisited. Obviously, Marnie was just as devastated by all of this as Skye was. She told a downtown eastside social worker that not having Skye, or having access to Skye, or having the hope of ever being Skye's mother, made her feel hopeless about everything. Skye had built a close relationship with her foster mother, but she began showing signs of reactive attachment disorder. A condition that can affect kids who have been neglected and bounced around from one caregiver to another. Symptoms include a decreased ability to experience positive emotion, or seek or accept physical or emotional closeness. Kids with reactive attachment disorder
Starting point is 00:17:05 can be withdrawn and unpredictable, difficult to console, and have a strong desire to control their environment which makes them likely to throw tantrums and break rules. Sky's symptoms became too much for her foster family to handle, and she was placed back with an indigenous foster family back in Campbell River that she and her mother had known when they lived there.
Starting point is 00:17:29 This family would report that Skye's personality was almost unrecognizable when she arrived, but she settled in and began to thrive, deal with her trauma, and shift her belief system about herself and the world around her. Social workers described Skye feeling more settled in this home, with foster parents who were warm, welcoming and loving people with strong cultural identities. The report Skye's legacy details another unbelievable sequence of events, instigated by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. When they saw this new placement was going well, they asked the family to indicate if
Starting point is 00:18:11 they would adopt Skye, giving them two months to decide. And if not, a search would commence for another family who would. Skye's foster family wrote to the Ministry to say they adored her, were proud of her, and were willing to keep her indefinitely. But they didn't think it was wise to rush ahead with another adoption plan. Skye herself had expressed that adoption was not what she wanted at that time. And they felt that, quote, adoption was a family process that requires time and support to ensure a match between a family's needs and a child's needs.
Starting point is 00:18:49 The foster family added that sky's readiness for adoption should not be determined by the ministry's internal priorities. But the ministry refused to take things slowly and continue to focus on adoption as the top priority. At the time, the British Columbian government routinely advertised indigenous children available for adoption, so a public ad was prepared for 8-year-old sky under the name Selena, describing her as a good little helper, a good playmate and a good student. It was noted at the very bottom that she is indigenous and quote, some openness will need to be explored with significant people she is still attached to. In later interviews, Skye's foster mother would recount how incredibly angry and hurt they
Starting point is 00:19:41 all were. Quote, adoption is a family process. It's not an ultimatum. How dare you!' It wasn't long before a non-indigenous family came forward willing to adopt Skye, and the ministry abruptly took her out of the supportive indigenous foster family she'd been progressing with and shipped her off to strangers in Nanoimo on Vancouver Island.
Starting point is 00:20:07 By this point, Sky was almost 12. The age when children have the legal right to consent to adoption, but she was not consulted about the change. And once she arrived, the new family had an unexpected crisis of their own, so Sky was shipped off yet again. Understandably, she was feeling extremely angry by this point in acting out. The province had single-mindedly pursued adoption for Skye, rather than considering ways to support a potential return to her mother's care,
Starting point is 00:20:41 or even a way for her to continue a relationship with her mother. There were potential placements for Sky with extended family, but they weren't fully explored. And the results of this narrow focus on adoption were a total of three failed adoption plans for Sky before she was 12. In total, Sky Crasweller was moved 15 times, lived in eight different foster homes, attended eight schools and had 18 different social workers. She wasn't provided with any opportunities to connect with her DNA culture in any meaningful
Starting point is 00:21:18 way, and she never got the chance to visit her home community of Fort McFuseon in the Northwest Territories, despite clearly expressing her desire to do so. As a young teen, Skye had been asking to return to Campbell River, also on Vancouver Island, one of the places she lived with her mother, Marnie. They hadn't seen each other for a number of years, because Mane lived on the mainland in Vancouver's downtown east side, but she wrote many loving letters of encouragement to her daughter. In one, she says, I love you, I miss you Sky, your mama has been thinking of you every waking moment and then my dreams are full of times I miss you. Sky was moved to a new placement at Campbell River, but she often left home and was reported
Starting point is 00:22:13 missing to police. Sometimes she would turn up in various cities. Her social worker caught up with her back in Nanimo, where she was staying with friends. There were no beds available in shelters or safe houses. At just 14 years old, Skye was taken to hospital under the mental health act after threatening suicide. Then, she was delivered to hospital with alcohol poisoning. She started using other substances, including methamphetamines, and by age 15, Sky was staying with a series of boyfriends considerably older than her. Marnie sent Sky another letter of encouragement, published in the report Sky's legacy. She
Starting point is 00:23:01 says, My heart really goes out to you. I really wish I could just hold you and let you know how much I love you. Please know that when or if you are able to talk to me or hopefully see me, I will be here. Lots of love, your mama. Sky began seeing a youth outreach worker at a community organization in Ninoimo, they built a strong relationship and she was able to talk about her experiences trauma and substance use. In the fall of 2016, the 16-year-old enrolled in the Salwalk Learning Center, an alternative education center in Ninoimo. She said her goals were to get a job, graduate, and be
Starting point is 00:24:06 happy without using drugs. But that November, Skye was given some distressing news. Her mother, Marnie, had died of suspected drug poisoning. Her world came crashing down yet again. Marnie Crasweller was 49 years old when she passed away alone in her room in the downtown east side, reportedly after using fentanyl. It had been more than 10 years since Sky last saw her. Sky was devastated. Her own substance use increased to a point where she realized she needed help and started attending the Sarwalk program again. Friends she made there would remember her well, finding her easy to talk to, supportive and funny. She
Starting point is 00:25:01 only lasted there for 14 days, but stayed connected to her social worker. In June of 2017, about 7 months after Marnie's death, Sky started a methadone maintenance program to help her withdraw from opioid use. Because methadone is regulated and taken orally, it's obviously much safer than taking illegal opioids from the streets. But it's also not the same thing. Methadone is given at a dose that helps the patient get through the awful withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings, but it doesn't induce euphoria, it doesn't make a person feel
Starting point is 00:25:42 high. And for those who seek a moment's relief from the pain of living, that feeling of oblivion is often just not enough, and that can send them back to the illicit market to find what they are missing. August 11th of 2017 was Sky Craswell's 17th birthday. Her former foster family in the Nimo went looking for her to celebrate with a treat from Tim Hortons, but they couldn't locate her. Later that day, Sky was found dead at the home of a friend. The report, Skye's legacy notes that most indigenous languages do not even have a word for adoption. It's just not really a thing in indigenous cultures, because the focus is often on holistic
Starting point is 00:26:40 kinship instead. The connection between the people, the community, their ancestors, and of course the land. That's where they belong. The responsibilities of raising children are considered not just the work of parents, but the entire community. Adoption of Indigenous children and youth by non-Indigenous families have consistently trended toward negative outcomes. According to Dr. Raven Sincleir, a Cree-Acinoboin-Soto scholar in social work who was quoted in the report, she states that these indigenous adoptees are often faced with feelings of otherness with respect to their cultural identities. So why was the ministry so focused on adoption at all costs?
Starting point is 00:27:29 It was based on the recommendations of Dr. Mary Allen Terpalle Lafont, the former representative for children and youth in British Columbia, known as one of the most accomplished and highly celebrated indigenous scholars in Canadian history or was. Dr. Mary Ellen Tupal-Lafond is a high-profile academic, lawyer, former judge and children's rights advocate. Described as the first indigenous woman appointed to the judicial bench in Saskatchewan, Time magazine named her as one of the 100 global leaders of tomorrow, twice. And in 2021, she was appointed to the Order of Canada. Tupal LaFonde served as the representative for children and youth in BC, between 2006 and 2016, a period where the provincial government was publicly advertising Indigenous children
Starting point is 00:28:40 for adoption. During her time, Tupal Lefond was openly critical about the fact that the proportion of Indigenous children in the child welfare system continued to grow, yet the proportion of those children with adoption plans had decreased. Her big picture solution was to increase the number of adoptions, and she urged the ministry
Starting point is 00:29:04 to prioritize finding a quote forever family for indigenous youth, describing this as vital to their optimal development and well-being. This advice was coming from someone highly respected and well-known as an Indigenous academic and children's rights advocate, so the ministry listened hard. in children's rights advocate, so the ministry listened hard. Like all humans, Sky Craswell I wanted to feel like she belonged somewhere, but the Ministry of Children and Family Development narrowly focused on legal belonging or adoption
Starting point is 00:29:41 at the expense of all other elements of belonging for Sky, including connection to family, culture, community and physical place. Dr. Mary Ellen Terpale LaFonde served in that position until 2016. The following year, the year Sky died, the BC government finally stopped advertising indigenous children available for adoption. In 2021, Dr Jennifer Charlesworth, the current representative for children and youth in BC, released her report, Skye's Legacy, concluding that not only did the Ministry do little to nurture these other senses of belonging for Skye, but went so far as to prevent such connections, as we saw with her older sister Olivia.
Starting point is 00:30:30 Quote, the systemic focus on legal permanency or adoption resulted in significant loss, harm and instability and ultimately contributed to her fate. Instead of what Skye experienced, the report recommends fostering a child's sense of identity and their sense of belonging in a number of different ways. It also emphasized continued input from indigenous leaders. In October of 2022, CBC News dropped a bombshell investigation, suggesting Dr. Mary
Starting point is 00:31:13 Allen Tupal-Lafond had been less than truthful about many aspects of her life, including her indigenous heritage and professional achievements. For decades, T'Powl of Font has publicly claimed to be a quote, Treaty Indian, born to a father who was Cree, and raised at Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. She has publicly spoken about her childhood experiences as a person with first nations and Cree background, who grew up in poverty on the reserve. But the CBC investigation by Jeff Leo uncovered multiple pieces of evidence, including a birth certificate that suggested she was actually born to a father of Canadian and British heritage, and raised in Niagara Falls on Terrio. Norway House cremation has confirmed they do not know her or her family.
Starting point is 00:32:11 When the story broke, Tupalafond doubled down on her claim to indigenous heritage, but the response as she gave were vague and didn't add up, and she provided little to no supporting evidence for her claims. It's since been reported that a number of the professional achievements she claims have also been unable to be verified. Like a book, she says she co-wrote that her supposed co-author had no knowledge of, and CBC could not find any evidence of. As a result of all of this, she's lost positions, awards, and honorary degrees. Mary Ellen Tupal-Lafons purported Cree ancestry played an essential role in informing her professional roles, community positions and indigenous advocacy work, according to a statement released earlier this year by the BC Civil Liberties Association.
Starting point is 00:33:09 Not only have her actions taken away opportunities and recognition rightfully owed to Indigenous women, but she used her claims of Indigenous heritage to validate her recommendations for dealing with Indigenous children in the child welfare system and the ministry, believing her to be highly credible with relevant experience went along with it. From the BC Civil Liberties Association statement, quote, to aid colonial violence and assimilation practices, allowing settlers to shape the future for indigenous communities, while marginalizing indigenous voices and weakening self-determination. Any further damage caused by Dr. Tupal Lafont's use of her professional position of influence,
Starting point is 00:34:00 in particular to the rights of indigenous peoples, is yet to be Julie reviewed and understood. Mary Allen to a Pellophon's high-profile career has effectively been cancelled, but there is no canceling the devastating harms that likely resulted from her trusted recommendations. We can see how that played out through the heartbreaking story of Sky Crasuella, a story that shows yet another side of the opioid crisis, one that deals with the intersection of racism, colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and drug harms. Today, a high-rise building with almost 200 affordable housing units in Vancouver's downtown eastside bears the name Olivia Sky in honour of Marnie Crasweller and her two
Starting point is 00:34:55 daughters, Olivia and Sky. We can only hope that Sky Crasweller's death and that of her mother, Marnie, will not only be remembered, but will be a catalyst for change. Later, we'll more closely examine the reasons for the abject failure of a crime and punishment approach to the opioid crisis. But back to the question, how did Canada get itself into this mess in the first place? One underlying issue is that trafficking in opioids is a crime that pays. At about $20 a pop, one kilo of synthetic opioids can be worth $20 million. The reason why fentanyl is a major
Starting point is 00:35:42 contributor to fatal and non-fatal drug poisoning is that it's extremely potent, up to 50 times stronger than heroin and a hundred times stronger than morphine. The astounding truth is that illegal drugs can be ordered online, just as easily as socks or salad tongs, and they can also cross the border with ease.
Starting point is 00:36:06 Two milligrams of fentanyl, a potentially lethal dose, is about the size of five grains of salt, and will fit in a very unobtrusive envelope. It goes without saying that as long as there is money pouring in, the makers of opioids will never stop. But worse, there is evidence that they may even be trying to interfere with the sale of safer drugs. A report out of Victoria, British Columbia, describes the suspicious death of Christopher Schwade,
Starting point is 00:36:40 a crack cocaine user and dealer known locally as a street hero for his efforts to ensure the safety of his product. He also distributed drug test kits and carried Naloxone kits, also known as Narcan, a safe and fast-acting drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. Naloxone has been used to successfully reverse thousands of opioid overdoses across Canada. It can restore breathing within a few minutes, so the patient is alive to receive emergency medical care.
Starting point is 00:37:17 No prescription is needed for Naloxone and take-home kits are available at most pharmacies or local health authorities. Despite having these kits on his person, 50-year-old Christopher Schweid died on August 18th of 2022. A toxicology report showed fentanyl in his system, but as journalist Catherine Lake Beers wrote for the Toronto star, a number of his family and friends believe he was murdered. They say there was no way Chris would have taken the fentanyl intentionally. He was reportedly passionate about safe use, so much so that he had recently changed suppliers to ensure his own supply remained safe.
Starting point is 00:38:05 He wanted to keep his customers from turning to unknown suppliers where there was a high risk of the crack cocaine being cut or mixed with potentially lethal products like fentanyl. Suppliers know that opioids like fentanyl are highly addictive, more so than crack, and only the tiniest amount needs to be mixed in to ensure customers keep coming back for more. Fentanyl is very good for profitability. But Christopher Schwade's focus was not profit, it was safety. His friends say he, quote, encouraged his clients to change to the safe supply by offering lower
Starting point is 00:38:46 prices than other dealers. This was a risk that may have upset competitors. According to the Toronto Star Report, those in the drug business and in law enforcement acknowledge that not only is fentanyl used as an ingredient to ensure customer loyalty, but it's also used as a weapon to keep others in line. Christopher's family and friends believe he was given a hot shot, which is a recreational drug intentionally laced with a potentially fatal toxin, often fentanyl, to cause death from drug poisoning. But because it's hard to determine whether these deaths are accidental or intentional,
Starting point is 00:39:27 it's also hard to prove that murder may have been the motive. Is it even possible for a drug dealer to be considered a hero? Well, nothing about the opioid crisis is black and white. Pharmaceutical companies can certainly be considered villains and have been proven guilty of serious crimes in court. In 2020, US opioid manufacturer Purdue Farmer pled guilty to three felony charges related to deceptive marketing of their highly promoted
Starting point is 00:40:01 product, Oxycontin. In a press statement, the US Deputy Attorney General stated that abuse and diversion of prescription opioids has contributed to a national tragedy of addiction and deaths. Quote, Purdue admitted that it marketed and sold its dangerous opioid products to health care providers, even though it had reason to believe those providers were diverting them to abusers. The company lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration about steps it had taken to prevent such diversion, fraudulently increasing the amount of its products
Starting point is 00:40:39 it was permitted to sell. Purdue also paid kickbacks to providers to encourage them to prescribe even more of its products." Here in Canada, provincial governments responded by collectively launching a lawsuit against Purdue Farmer Canada to recover the health care costs as a result of the company's action. In 2022, CBC News reported that the parties had reached a settlement of $150 million. So what should be done about all of this? Benjamin Perrin, University of British Columbia Law Professor and a leading researcher on the subject of drug law, has a few ideas.
Starting point is 00:41:30 In his 2020 best-selling book, Overdose, Heartbreak and Hope in Canada's opioid crisis, he details how crime and punishment has been proven to be an ineffective approach to dealing with substance use in Canada. But Perrin hasn't always held that opinion. You might remember in the last episode, we mentioned former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's top criminal justice advisor between 2012 and 2013, around the same time that the controversial Omnibus crime bill was introduced. That man was Benjamin Perrin. He has since been open about the fact that he once considered supervised consumption sites and safe supply programs to be insane policy.
Starting point is 00:42:19 The intent behind these harm reduction programs is often to provide a hygienic environment, overseen by trained healthcare professionals where people can consume their own drugs in a safe setting, or have street drugs replaced by non-toxic alternatives. But Perrin would later say that he believed at the time that these programs only served to enable drug use. He strongly supported politicians who advocated for them to be shut down entirely. Politicians like current federal conservative opposition leader Pierre Pollyève, who dismisses harm reduction strategies as woke, and just a few months ago introduced a motion to parliament that would effectively shut down
Starting point is 00:43:05 all safe supply programs. He described advocates for drug decriminalization and safe supply as being tax-funded activists, pharmaceutical companies and others who stand to gain from perpetuating the crisis. Quote, these so-called experts are typically pie in the sky theorists with no experience getting people off drugs, or their members of the misery industry, those paid activists and public health bureaucrats whose jobs depend on the crisis continuing." End quote. The thing is, Polly Eiff's comment focuses on what he perceives to be efforts to get people
Starting point is 00:43:45 off drugs. A total abstinence approach, reinforced by the criminal justice system, that addresses none of the root causes behind why people use drugs in the first place. The advocates and experts he criticises are actually focused on keeping people safe and alive long enough to get the help they need. But as soon as he criticises, are actually focused on keeping people safe and alive long enough to get the help they need by preventing fatal overdoses, which is a harm reduction approach.
Starting point is 00:44:13 There is overlap between the two strategies, but their end goals are different. Perhaps that's why Pierre Pollyev's motion to stop all safe supply programs was defeated by a wide margin. Back to Benjamin Perrin, he would say that in the years after he finished his two-year stint as criminal justice adviser for the Stephen Harper Federal Government, he started to notice that there were a lot of Canadians dying of opioid drug poisoning.
Starting point is 00:44:45 So many that it was starting to affect life expectancy in Canada. A pillar of critical thinking is the ability to re-examine and challenge your own beliefs, even if you suspect you might be proven wrong. Heron decided to do just that and says that in the process he reconnected with his Christian faith. In a 2020 opinion piece for the Calgary Herald, he wrote that the World Health Organization found people who use drugs are subject to the highest level of social disapproval or stigma of any other group in society. Worse even than people with leprosy, a disease often mentioned in the Bible.
Starting point is 00:45:29 He wrote, It gave me pause when I read that. The same Jesus who I follow had a heart of compassion for all people, while others would shout, Unclean and drive lepers out of town, Jesus cared. He laid his hands on them and healed them. Perrin compares this to the situation today, with self-righteous pundits and politicians in Canada calling people who use drugs' derisive names
Starting point is 00:45:56 like addicts and junkies, while fear-mongering about decriminalization and opposing life-saving measures like harm reduction programs. Quote, I prayed about it. I interviewed the experts, I read the evidence. What I concluded after all of this research and soul-searching is that my views about drug
Starting point is 00:46:16 policy were a deadly cocktail of ignorance and ideology that costs people their lives and devastates communities. I realized that it isn't illicit drugs that are killing people. It's our lack of compassion." Benjamin Perrin wrote that he realized this opioid crisis might be the worst public health epidemic in a generation. And as someone who was once Prime Minister Steven Harper's top criminal justice adviser, he felt a moral and ethical obligation to do something about
Starting point is 00:46:52 it. Today, Perrin frequently gives public talks where he lays out the evidence that challenged his own beliefs. Tobacco remains far and away the most harmful substance in Canada. Alcohol costs the justice system triple the amount that opioids do, and yet it's not only legal but very successfully commercialized. This seems perfectly normal to most of us. No politician is campaigning to criminalize these substances. And that would be a terrible election platform because history has proven that prohibition only raises the stakes, resulting in increasingly potent substances like fentanyl appearing on
Starting point is 00:47:36 the black market. This was true when moonshine replaced legal booze, and it's true for opioids. In short, parent argues that Canada's drug policy effectively punishes the use of substances that people turn to in response to trauma that is very often the result of government action or inaction. An increasing number of Canadians are experiencing hardship as the social safety nets our provincial and federal governments are supposed to provide have grown increasingly inadequate. There's economic hardships caused by job loss, the sharp increase in the cost
Starting point is 00:48:19 of living, and rapid decrease in affordable housing, and political leaders consistently demonstrate they're unwilling to make tough decisions that will result in positive change for all Canadians. We're experiencing mental and physical hardship caused by social isolation, lack of mental health supports, a deteriorating healthcare system, and a dysfunctional criminal justice system, not to mention the fallout from the injustices of the Indian Act.
Starting point is 00:48:52 They are just some of a host of historic failures and lack of supports that have led to the challenges Canadians are facing today. The opioid crisis is not going to go away. If you want people to stop using drugs, you have to give them a reason to. And with no solution to these problems inside, it's difficult for many young Canadians to find hope for the future. So when they're punished for turning to substances to dull the pain of living. It's almost as though government is effectively saying, we wronged you, but instead of offering you assistance,
Starting point is 00:49:30 we're going to make things even worse for you. Next, the story of Morgan Goodridge. Like Sophie Breene's mother Mary, Kathleen Radu was not on high alert for devastating news on that particular spring day in 2020. Her 26-year-old son Morgan, who lived in Vancouver, was doing really well. Kathleen told us it was the best they had seen him. She said he had so much hope for the future. He had just got a new car and was starting a new job. Life seemed really positive for him.
Starting point is 00:50:25 When the phone rang around 4pm on June 16th of 2020, Kathleen was prepared to deal with another relapse, but in this instance, one momentary relapse turned out to be Morgan's last. Morgan's family had been there for him over the course of five previous relapses. Kathleen had done her research. She knew that the average person will relapse seven to twelve times as they work towards addiction recovery. Quote, we were able to get him back on the right track every time. Even when Morgan relapsed nine days after leaving a 30-day
Starting point is 00:51:07 treatment program, they hung in there. Families in the situation know that relaps shortly after rehab is a very real risk, but cling to hope, even if it's by their fingernails. Morgan Goodridge was the eldest of Kathleen's three children. He was athletic, adventurous and fun to be around. When Morgan was in his mid teens, he experienced a traumatic episode at a workplace which caused feelings of pain and low self-worth. His family didn't hear about it at the time. In retrospect, Kathleen believes this event triggered
Starting point is 00:51:47 the start of his recreational drug use when he was 14 or 15. Morgan began hanging out with a different group of friends. He started with cannabis and moved on to other so-called party drugs. Realising he had a problem, Morgan tried to get help and detox on his own. But by the time he was 24, Morgan was using heroin. He'd been hiding his drug use from his family for a long time. But when he went into septic shock and nearly died,
Starting point is 00:52:20 the severity of his addiction became starkly clear. Like so many other people who use drugs or have a substance use disorder, Morgan was afraid people would think badly of him. Kathleen says they had lots of long, long conversations about it, quote, but there's a lot of shame around addiction. Morgan would try to brush it off like it was no big deal.
Starting point is 00:52:46 Morgan's family spent close to $80,000 on his care. After the septic shock incident, he was in and out of residential programs for the better part of two years. He had returned to some healthy habits, swimming and going to the gym every day. had returned to some healthy habits, swimming and going to the gym every day. He regained the 70 pounds he had lost through his illness. But then, the pandemic hit, and those positive routines and social connections came to an abrupt halt. Morgan's vulnerability and susceptibility suddenly shot way up. At the time of his death, Morgan had not been using drugs for five months and was living in Vancouver in second-stage supportive housing. On the evening of June 15th, Kathleen spoke to him on the phone. His 26th birthday was just
Starting point is 00:53:41 eight days earlier, and he told her he'd been out taking night photos with the camera he was given as a gift. Before hanging up, he said, I love you and his mum said it back. It was the last words they would exchange. Morgan didn't return his mother's text the next morning. He was found in his bed. His accidental death was caused by a combination of fentanyl and car fentanyl, an opioid used by vets for very large animals like elephants, and is about 100 times more toxic than fentanyl. Kathleen has become very active with the National Nonprofit Group Mum Stop the Harm,
Starting point is 00:54:30 which supports Canadian families impacted by substance use. The bottom line, she says, is that there are so many different reasons why people relapse, but a relapse should not have to mean death, it just shouldn't. Three years after Morgan's death, Kathleen shared on social media that she was grateful to be able to sit around a table at the BC legislature with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions alongside other activists working for drug policy reform. She wrote, it was emotional and powerful. My hope is that our stories make an impact as we continue to advocate for change.
Starting point is 00:55:15 Her Facebook profile picture shows her in a t-shirt that says, strong like a mother. A couple of years into her grief, Kathleen posted, quote, a mother. A couple of years into her grief, Kathleen posted, quote, �The other day I caught someone staring at me while I was laughing. I couldn't help but wonder what they were thinking. No one understands grief until they have sat face to face with it. Grief will destroy you if you don't find a way to coexist with it. For me, it's finding joy in the little moments, allowing them to enter the broken parts of my heart, even though it hurts."
Starting point is 00:55:52 Kathleen has given many talks and interviews over the past three years. On International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31, of 2022, she explained on Global TV's Morning News program, quote, This is not the same crisis that was declared in BC in 2016. The drug toxicity and deaths have gone way up. People need to know that they are loved and supported, and most importantly that they don't have to use alone. Governments need to take action now. Not a few beds here and there, but full treatments with wraparound supports. But first, we need safe supply, so our loved ones have a chance to get recovery.
Starting point is 00:56:39 In an interview on the Evan Solomon Radio Show just a few months after Morgan's death, Kathleen told the host, quote, There is no line anymore between party drugs and street drugs because of the toxicity of the substances circulating right now. We know teens will experiment with drugs. We need a brave politician to step up. The evidence is there. We need safe pharmaceutical alternatives. If we had this level of toxicity and any legal product on the market, including alcohol,
Starting point is 00:57:14 something would be done immediately. If Morgan had been able to access a clean supply of heroin and a comprehensive treatment program, he might well still be here. Is a brave politician going to step up? Are we going to see any significant change in drug law across Canada? Decriminalization is only one piece of the puzzle. In the next and final part of this series, we'll look at all the other pieces. Thanks for listening and special thanks to the families of Seth McClain, Morgan Goodridge
Starting point is 00:57:56 and Sophie Brinne, and to Sophie's mother Mary Brinne for her insightful and powerful writing in this series. For the full list of resources we relied on to write this series and anything else you want to know about the podcast, see the show notes or visit We donate monthly to help those facing injustice. In honour of August 31 International Overdose Awareness Day, we have donated to Mums Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use related harms and deaths. They advocate for the change of failed drug policies, provide peer support to grieving families,
Starting point is 00:58:40 and assist those with loved ones who use or have used substances. Learn more at Mary Fairhurst Breene is the lead writer and producer on this series. The original concept, case selection and research was by Shelby Prokop Malar. Audio editing is by Nico from the Inki Paulprint, aka We Talk of Dreams, who also composed the theme songs, and production assistance is by Jesse at the Inky Poreprint. Script consulting by Carol Weinberg, Indigenous content advice by Daniel Parrade, an additional research and writing creative direction and sound design was by me.
Starting point is 00:59:25 The disclaimer was voiced by Eric Crosby. you

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