Canadian True Crime - 145 The Truth About Canada's Opioid Crisis—Part 3

Episode Date: September 12, 2023

[ Part 3 of 3 ] The truth about Canada’s Opioid Crisis is complicated and multi-faceted, but many experts in the field are clear about what’s going wrong.In this final part, we'll explore the evid...ence and data, and delve into what addiction is and where it originates.We'll look at what grief-stricken families are saying about Canada's slow and limited response to the opioid crisis—and what they are demanding be done instead.Finally, we’ll circle back to Mary Breen for her reflections on the sentencing hearing for the young man convicted of selling her daughter Sophie the fentanyl that killed her.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:Any Kind of Luck at All a memoir by Mary Fairhurst Breen (Sophie Breen's mother)Overdose: Heartbreak and Hope in Canada's Opioid Crisis by Benjamin PerrinIndictment: The Criminal Justice System on Trial 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.Full list of resources, information sources, credits and music credits:See the page for this episode at Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

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Starting point is 00:02:39 That's slash podcast. your listening to Canadian True Crime. The podcast often has disturbing content and course language. It's not for everyone. Please take care when listening. This is the final part of a three-part series. We have shared the stories of Sophie Breene, Seth McLean, Skycrasweller and Morgan Goodridge, four young Canadians from completely different walks of life who all met the same tragic fate. They were among the almost 40,000 Canadians who have died of toxic drug poisoning since 2016. Most of those deaths were accidental, caused by street drugs contaminated with deadly illegal fentanyl. In this final part, we'll define the leading contributors to Canada's opioid
Starting point is 00:03:34 crisis and what is currently being done here to address it, including the very different approaches taken by British Columbia and Alberta and the very recent data showing the shocking results of those approaches. Wheeled-dowl into what addiction actually is and where it originates, and look at what advocates, including grief-stricken families of those lost to the opioid crisis, are saying about Canada's current response to it, and what they are demanding be done instead. And finally, we'll circle back to Mary Brine, mother of Sophie Brine who passed away in Guelph, Ontario, just before the first COVID lockdown. As you'll remember, the Crown recommended a
Starting point is 00:04:19 three-year sentence for the young man convicted of selling Sophie the fentanyl that killed her. Will he marry reflections about the sentence he actually got? You might have noticed that the opioid crisis and how to fix it is the subject of a fiery, polarized and very high-profile debate playing out in the media right now. The data shows that harm reduction projects are working, that they successfully reverse overdoses and save lives. Yet every week there are new media articles slamming them for causing problems in local communities. From the looks of it, you might be forgiven for assuming that these harm reduction projects have all but taken over the province of British Columbia and are multiplying exponentially across the country like a runaway train that must be stopped before it has a catastrophic
Starting point is 00:05:20 crash. So I was surprised to learn that across the entire country of Canada, there are a combined total of 38 safest apply and supervised consumption sites, just 38. And the vast majority of them are pilot projects in the great of Vancouver and Toronto areas that are set to expire in early 2024. It would be a miracle if there weren't problems to be fixed, issues to be tweaked and improved, yet critics of harm reduction are taking a very black and white approach to this and shouting it from the rooftops.
Starting point is 00:06:00 Apparently, the preferred way to end these problems is simply to shut them all down. But isn't that like throwing the baby out with the bath water? Addressing the opioid crisis is not a zero-sum game. We don't have to choose between harm reduction or treatment and total recovery, because they are not in competition with each other. They're complementary. because they are not in competition with each other, they're complementary. Harm reduction in care services support treatment and recovery by moving people who use substances towards wellness without them dying of accidental drug poisoning before they have a chance to get that treatment. Advocates for drug reform bluntly state, dead people don't recover, it's even printed
Starting point is 00:06:46 on a t-shirt. The immediate priority has to be to decrease the likelihood of death from poisoned street drugs. For decades, Canadian life expectancy has continuously increased, but not anymore. Statistics Canada has just released new data showing that since 2019, the average life expectancy for Canadians has decreased by almost a year and continues to trend downward. So if we're going to properly address this public health crisis, we need a toolkit with all available options, from harm reduction
Starting point is 00:07:26 to treatment and recovery and more. The truth about Canada's opioid crisis is complicated and multifaceted, but many experts in the field are clear about what's going wrong, so let's break it down. There are three leading contributors to the current opioid crisis in Canada. The first is the rising number of increasingly potent medical opioid prescriptions. Canada's opioid consumption is second only to that of the US. Excessive prescription practices
Starting point is 00:08:01 have exposed large numbers of people to the risk of addiction that opioids present. At the peak of the pharmaceutical industry's marketing push, as many as one in five Canadians was prescribed opioids. The second contributing factor is really fall out from the first. Once medical opioid prescriptions were curtailed in response to their harmful consequences, people who had become addicted had to turn to other sources. Certain opioids were delisted,
Starting point is 00:08:33 stricter prescription guidelines came into effect, and prescription monitoring intensified. Organized crime made sure that that void was quickly filled with an elicit supply. There was an unprecedented rise in the availability of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. With no quality control, these drugs are highly dangerous. Makers and distributors simply want to sell the cheapest mix of substances for the highest price. Which brings us to the third factor, toxic drug exposure. Whether we call it overdose or poisoning, the end result is death.
Starting point is 00:09:19 At the beginning of 2023, after tireless lobbying by a great many individuals and organizations, health Canada granted an exemption from the Control Drugs and Substances Act for a pilot decriminalization project. It's only running in the province of British Columbia and only until January of 2026. Among its advocates are Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, who wrote a 2019 report called Stopping the Harm, decriminalization of people who use drugs in BC. She concluded that because of the toxicity
Starting point is 00:09:59 of the illegal drug market and the unprecedented risk of poisoning or overdose, the use of a controlled substance is a public health concern and should be treated as such. Whether use is habitual, a result of a substance use disorder or a one-time occurrence, quote, a primary responsibility of a government is the duty to protect and preserve life. It's interesting to note that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also endorses decriminalization as an effective way to reduce harm to public health and public safety. The BC pilot project means that adults are no longer being arrested or charged for possessing
Starting point is 00:10:47 small amounts of certain illegal drugs for personal use. These are the drugs covered by the exemption. Opioids like heroin, morphine and fentanyl, stimulants like crack and powder cocaine, and methamphetamine often called meth, along with MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy. So what is defined as a small amount? The BC government recommended a total maximum of 4.5 grams of any combination of these drugs. Health Canada has approved 2.5.
Starting point is 00:11:24 It's a start, but many on the front lines have argued the amount is inadequate and will result in users going back to the illegal market to get what they need. So looking outside Canada, what kind of results might we expect to see from this BC pilot project. Similar decriminalization measures have worked in Portugal, Uruguay, Germany, Lithuania, Australia, the Czech Republic and the state of Oregon. People often point to Portugal, where the benefits of decriminalization have been well-documented since it was introduced in 2001. For starters, drug-related offenses resulting in prison sentences have dropped substantially, easing the burden on the justice system.
Starting point is 00:12:14 Most importantly, drug deaths have also dropped dramatically. In 2005, there were a total of just 10 overdose deaths in Portugal. Figures have fluctuated over the years, but rates of drug-related deaths in the country remain some of the lowest in the European Union. The decriminalization of personal possession in Portugal is just one aspect of their drug policy reforms. There's also been an increased investment in harm reduction and treatment provision. By accepting the reality of drug use rather than hoping that it will disappear, Portugal
Starting point is 00:12:56 has established a broader health-based response to the issue. In British Columbia, it's too early to say how the pilot project is going. In an article for the conversation, University of BC researcher Samuel Tobias cautioned that decriminalization does nothing to tackle a key aspect fueling the drug poisoning crisis, the makeup of a toxic and unregulated drug supply. He says that imposed restrictions of 2.5 grams could theoretically lead to unintended consequences as drugs become more potent to fit within those legal limits. The consensus among experts has long been that unpredictable drugs from an unregulated
Starting point is 00:13:49 supply and the absence of a functioning addiction treatment system are at the root of the crisis. For those who want treatment, the lack of available space leaves them reliant on the toxic drug supply while they languish on waiting lists. Decriminalization is just one step. So far, Canada has taken a baby step in that direction. So what would a functioning addiction treatment system look like? A system that offers a range of treatment options instead of relying solely on abstinence-based short-term rehab programs.
Starting point is 00:14:30 And what can we do right now to improve the safety of the substances people use until such time as they don't anymore, which realistically might be never. Health Canada's substance use and addictions program is currently funding about 230 projects run by a range of health care and social service agencies. They cover the whole gamut of substances including tobacco and alcohol. Many focus on awareness and education. Some offer mentorship or counseling, quite a few include naloxone training and drug testing, others serve indigenous communities and high risk groups like men in the skilled trades, and a handful include the training of medical professionals. Obviously, this all sounds really good, but only a fraction of these initiatives directly
Starting point is 00:15:25 respond to the problem of people dying from accidental drug poisoning by giving the medical grade pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs right now. Safer supply services are designed to reach people who are at risk of drug poisoning and who haven't been helped by traditional substance use services and treatments. Here's how it works. At safer supply sites, medications are prescribed to people who use drugs, overseen by a healthcare practitioner. By directly replacing the harms related
Starting point is 00:16:01 to the toxic illicit drug supply, we can prevent overdoses and save lives so that Canadians have a chance to continue toward wellness. Safer supply services are provided in a less clinical and more flexible way compared to other care options for substance use like methadone programs. As an example, instead of requiring that clients stop using illegal drugs immediately, which for many is extremely hard if not impossible, there's more of an emphasis on flexible client-based goals, like focusing on improving health and connecting them with wraparound supports
Starting point is 00:16:42 like housing, health and social supports that can help them move towards wellness. Safer supply services might offer a range of medication options and accessible locations like community health centres. There might be flexible eligibility requirements, dosing conditions and carrying rules, like allowing clients to pick up their supply and use as needed. Clients of SAFE's supply report that these programs offer them a sense of community and
Starting point is 00:17:13 connection, hope for the future, structure and stability and increased autonomy. But according to a 2019 report by the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, if clients or drug users are overburdened with surveillance, punitive measures, safety controls and other requirements that are either invasive or too time-consuming, the program runs the risk of turning clients off altogether. It's not enough for safe supply strategies to just exist. They have to be good enough to attract those currently engaging with the illicit market. If the primary mission of safer supply is to prevent overdoses and save lives, clients
Starting point is 00:17:59 have to see the program as a convenient, viable alternative to unregulated street drugs. If not, then what's the point? For this very reason, the report recommends these programs are developed in partnership with people who use drugs. Among the specific recommendations is that the environment provided for safe supply should be one that resembles where people would use drugs.
Starting point is 00:18:29 In a Vancouver son article about Sky Crasweller and her mother Marnie, a family friend pointed out that Marnie was very private about her opioid use and preferred to use alone, so she wouldn't have participated in a supervised consumption site. A model that allows for take home doses could have helped someone like Marnie. It could also help those who find it a hindrance to have to visit a clinic or health care facility multiple times a day. Take home doses would increase retention and safe supply programs, which ultimately give people a better chance at staying alive. Another recommendation is to respect that people do use drugs to experience euphoria, not
Starting point is 00:19:17 just for pain relief or helpful withdrawal symptoms. If safe supply doses are too low and users don't get the mental relief they're desperate for, they will continue using street fentanyl. We likely saw this in action with SkyCrasuella. Also among the many other recommendations is to look further into how tolerance to a substance like fentanyl might impact a person's dosage on a safe supply program. A great deal of detailed strategy has gone into this report by the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs. It's obviously informed by real-world lived experience. That said, for many people it requires a cognitive leap to consider drug use as neutral,
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Starting point is 00:20:58 How do you feel about this podcast? What kind of podcasts do you like the most? What's missing? Tell us all about it by completing our brief survey and is our way of saying thanks for letting us listen to you We'll give you a chance to win one of three $100 Amazon gift cards Just go to your podcasts dot CA to have your say that's your podcasts dot CA your say. That's Writing is a part of our daily lives, whether it's an email to the boss, a reply to one from
Starting point is 00:21:32 your kid's teacher, or a mesmerizing speech for your siblings' wedding. Whatever it is, Grammily is there to transform your writing to help you get the results you want. Grammily is an amazing spelling and grammar checkup, but it's also a powerful writing and communication tool that saves you time and energy in your everyday tasks, like crafting social media posts. All I do is select my rough draft, and with a single click,
Starting point is 00:21:58 Grammily offers suggestions that give me exactly what I'm looking for in a fraction of the time it would have taken me. For over 10 years, Grammily has been powered by AI technology you can trust and rely on to help you across all the places where you write the most. If you're not nailing that important work presentation, just try the rewrite function. All you have to do is select what you want it to rewrite, click the green G and give it a prompt, like rewrite to make it more assertive. And if it's not quite there, just click improve it and it will be soon. Imagine the possibilities. Grammily can help
Starting point is 00:22:36 you brainstorm ideas for that next blog post you've been struggling to start and help you write it. Found the perfect job to apply for and don't want to waste the opportunity? Grammily can be your ultimate writing sidekick and best of all, it's free to use. You'll be amazed at what you can do with Grammily. Go to slash podcast to download for free today. That's slash podcast. Tough love has been a widely accepted approach to addiction. Many of us have seen or heard about those Dr. Phil episodes that
Starting point is 00:23:26 show a person who uses drugs being cornered and confronted by their family and friends, who, lovingly threaten a number of negative consequences if the drug use continues, or if they refuse to go to rehab. Consequences like kicking them out of home, cutting them off emotionally, or refusing to communicate with them, or help them in any way unless they are completely sober. While tough love might appear to be effective in the short term, it's really no different to the crime and punishment approach because they're both based on an expectation of total abstinence from drugs without addressing the reason why
Starting point is 00:24:05 the person is using in the first place. Dr. Garbore Matei, renowned Canadian addiction expert and author, calls for a compassionate approach towards addiction. He isn't a fan of the tough love approach. It's kind of an oxymoron when you think about it. Instead, he says, love is enough. His 2009 best-selling book, The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, draws from scientific evidence alongside real-life stories to show that all addictions not only originate in trauma and emotional loss, but exist to soothe the pain resulting from that loss. Mate says the source of addiction
Starting point is 00:24:51 is in the early childhood environment. Some critics of this generalization have interpreted it to mean that everyone who ends up addicted to drugs must have been traumatized or abused in childhood. And this might actually add an unhelpful layer of judgment, particularly towards the families of people who have been harmed or killed by drugs. If something really bad happened to them in childhood, there is the unspoken assumption that their care givers didn't adequately protect them. The act of blaming mothers for all manner of their offsprings problems is still pretty
Starting point is 00:25:31 popular. The fact is, there are people who had the good fortune to enjoy idyllic childhoods and still developed an addiction after being prescribed opioids for an injury or being pressured into using them by peers. Everyone's story is unique. That's why the opioid crisis is so widespread. Dr. Marte has clarified that his point was not that everyone who ends up addicted to drugs was traumatized or abused in childhood. It's much more nuanced than that."
Starting point is 00:26:09 So many of us, whether or not we were acutely traumatized or faced extreme adversity as kids, have these sort of lingering challenges to contend with. We can and should be grateful things weren't worse, but we shouldn't discount or minimize the pain we carry from childhood, even if it didn't result from severe neglect or abuse. When asked whether an addiction can ever be positive, Marta says it's probably a passion and not an addiction. Quote, passions can be very consuming of time and energy, but they also feed your soul, your sense of being alive, your feeling of wholeness as a person. Addictions provide fleeting pleasure or gratification, but never leave you satisfied.
Starting point is 00:26:58 And the same activity could be a passion for one person and an addiction for another. One might be a wine enthusiast enjoying the refined pleasures the drink has to offer, while another person's love for wine masks a fear of his own mind in its sober state. Which takes us back to the fundamental question of why so many people are seeking oblivion to escape from their pain and malaise. Because once we succeed in keeping more people alive so they can take part in treatment, they need options and lots of them because every human is different.
Starting point is 00:27:41 In a 2020 article in Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Dr. Ruben Kodem tries to bring the opposing forces of total abstinence and harm reduction closer together for the greater good. He writes that 12-step abstinence-based treatments are designed to help an individual maintain sobriety, with strategies including urine drug screens, group treatment programs and care coordination. And while abstinence does work for some people, it cannot be a one-size-fits-all philosophy. Those who don't think they can completely abstain, or might not want to just yet, aren't
Starting point is 00:28:23 able to seek treatment to help the moderate or cut down their use because treatment centres and rehab facilities often require total abstinence for patients to receive services in the first place. Only after the person has already stopped using drugs, are they eligible for rehab? It seems a bit backwards. Regular listeners might remember Darcy Allen Sheppard, the bike messenger who died on a Toronto street after an altercation with former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant. Darcy had engaged in hazardous substance use but was desperate to make changes in his life and had applied for a spot in rehab.
Starting point is 00:29:09 He didn't know how long it would take for the spot to be available, but he knew he would need to be sober to be accepted, so he musted all the willpower he had to abstain completely with little to no outside help. The day of his death, he had achieved eight days without drug use, but something happened that day and he started using again. All it takes is just one bad day to demonstrate how an all or nothing approach can backfire in the most devastating of ways. Harm reduction programs bridge that gap between all and nothing. Many people might still have abstinence as a long-term goal, but harm reduction strategies
Starting point is 00:29:55 meet them where they are, shifting the focus away from the problematic use itself and towards reducing the harmful consequences. Harm reduction is part of a continuum of services and care that moves people towards wellness, each on their own different journey. In the Psychology Today article, the author suggests that both abstinence-based and harm reduction treatment programs could be used together to create a larger menu of treatment options that save lives.
Starting point is 00:30:29 A menu that caters to the unique needs of each individual and effectively moves towards a normalization of treatment, decreased stigmatization and increased access to care. Few people addicted to opioids can just say no, and there is a solid scientific explanation for that. Policy makers as well as medical professionals need to understand the neurobiology of dependence and addiction. Research shows that brain abnormalities resulting from the chronic use of heroin, oxycodone and other morphine-derived drugs are the underlying causes of opioid addiction and dependencies. These abnormalities are wide-ranging, complex and long-lasting. They can produce cravings that lead to relapse months or years after the individual is no longer
Starting point is 00:31:24 opioid dependent. In other words, a few weeks in rehab is not likely to do the trick. Scientific knowledge like this can inform treatment choices and give people the important added bonus of understanding that their illness has a biological basis. Their addiction does not mean they are bad or weak. Where does this leave us in Canada in 2023? In recent months, the fiery ideological debate over what to do about Canada's opioid crisis
Starting point is 00:32:02 has reached fever pitch with a heavy focus on slamming harm reduction services, particularly safer supply and supervised consumption. In early May, the National Post published a subscriber-only article by columnist Adam Zivo that reportedly shows that Canada's safer supply programs have been a disaster. In his 10,000-word article, Zivo writes that he spoke to a number of addiction physicians, who say a significant portion of the safer supply drugs being freely distributed through government-funded programs and not actually being consumed by their intended recipients. Quote,
Starting point is 00:32:45 Instead, these drugs are being sold on the black market at rock bottom prices, typically to fund the ongoing purchase of a listed fentanyl. Safer supply programs do not curb the fentanyl market, they subsidize it. The article gives multiple vivid descriptions of these diverted drugs flooding into communities across Canada, destroying lives. The phrase, like a geyser, is even used. But there's no mention of the fact that in the entire country of Canada, there are only 28 safer supply sites in only four provinces,
Starting point is 00:33:25 in each with a limited number of client slots per day. And make no mistake, there is some anecdotal evidence of an issue to be addressed regarding diversion of safe supply drugs. The federal government has also confirmed this. But to assert that these 28 sites are somehow responsible for flooding the Canadian market like a geyser, subsidizing fentanyl instead of curbing it, in an effort to have these sites close down, is disingenuous and misleading at best.
Starting point is 00:34:00 Zivo's article is titled, Drug Fail, the liberal government's safest supply is fueling a new opioid crisis. It's a clear indication that the article was politically motivated, rather than from a desire to fix the actual problem. So, too is the fact that the pay-walled article was quickly cited by Federal Conservative Opposition Leader Pierre Pollyève as definitive proof that his motion to effectively stop all government-funded safe supply programs was a winner. The reality is that the only actual winner would be organized crime, because the data shows
Starting point is 00:34:41 drug users don't just disappear or stop using when regulated safe supply is removed. They turn to the unregulated supply of the illicit market. So in effect, what the opposition leader is really advocating for is for organized crime to have an ongoing monopoly on providing the illicit drugs that people are addicted to. In pointing this out, leading drug researcher Benjamin Perrin described this take as ironic. Critics have pointed out the problematic elements of Adam Zivo's National Post article. For one, he describes it as an investigation, yet it appears to be an op-ed, published in the comment
Starting point is 00:35:26 section of the National Post, where Zivo is a columnist. The article relies primarily on interviews with a carefully curated small group of mostly anonymous doctors, who Zivo says fear backlash for criticizing the government. Critics have also pointed out that his investigation is quite one-sided and doesn't appear to have included the perspectives of addiction experts who advocate for safe supply, or any safe supply clients themselves. There is also no mention of the existence of data that goes against the point the article is obviously trying to make. As an example, critics including Benjamin Peron pointed out that the 2022 British
Starting point is 00:36:13 Columbia Coroner's report found there is no indication that prescribed safe supply is contributing to ill at drug deaths. Yet at the end of his op-ed, Zivo writes, quote, Since safest supply was ramped up in 2020, opioid deaths have only gone up. There is no mention about the contamination of the illegal drug market with deadly fentanyl, which has been established as the leading cause of opioid-related deaths in Canada. But no, no, let's instead blame the clients of these 28 safer supply sites, because somehow they must have been able to organize themselves to compete
Starting point is 00:37:00 with the entire country's elicit drug market run by organized crime. Zivo concludes that, quote, "'Expanding the Safe-As-Apply' program would likely be catastrophic." Not only is it a dangerously bad faith argument, but it is not consistent with a genuine desire to find real solutions to the increasing number of Canadians dying of drug poisoning. And when it comes to opioid deaths going up, let's not forget that most of these safer
Starting point is 00:37:34 supply sites are located in Vancouver and Toronto. So the vast majority of drug users across the country don't even have access to a safer supply that could help them stay alive to get treatment, it's not surprising that drug deaths haven't gone down. We haven't given it much of a chance. Rather than using these issues to form a premature conclusion that harm reduction doesn't work, we should be seeing opportunities to tweak and improve the programs,
Starting point is 00:38:06 make them better, which is obviously what pilot projects are designed for. That's what we need if we're really going to solve this problem. The article does cite one research project commissioned by the Alberta government, a rapid review of safest supply research conducted in 2022 that reportedly found no credible evidence that safest supply works. The response to this report made headlines because more than 50 addictions, researchers and clinicians signed and presented a letter to the Legislative Committee arguing the reporters deeply flawed and does not stand up to established scientific standards. There is no mention of this serious pushback in ZIVO's article.
Starting point is 00:39:00 This brings us to the Alberta Government and its unique approach to dealing with the opioid crisis. In 2019, when the United Conservative Party was elected to govern Alberta, it introduced what's known as the Alberta model of drug treatment described as a new approach to care that prioritizes total recovery and rejects harm reduction services. Because the approach taken by the British Columbian government does include harm reduction services, the two provincial approaches are often compared to each other. The messaging for this Alberta model portrays a government that cares and wants Albertans to get better, which is why it's helping them to recover and abstain from drugs. Of the outspoken fans of this model is Pierre Pollyève, who has stated that only treatment
Starting point is 00:39:55 will bring our loved ones home drug-free. But this softened verbiage is only surface level because underneath still lies the old school war on drugs attitude, where the standard is forcing everyone into total recovery and abstinence reinforced by the criminal justice system. Earlier this year, just weeks before the Alberta Provincial Election, Premier Danielle Smith publicly touted the success of the Alberta Model of Recovery over harm reduction. The National Post published more op-eds in support of this announcement, promoting the Alberta
Starting point is 00:40:36 Model as a resounding success, the best way to address the drug poisoning deaths caused by the ongoing opioid crisis in Canada. Predictably, these op-eds pitted the Alberta model against British Columbia's approach with one particular statistic which was cited several times. From 2021 to 22, overdose deaths in Alberta dropped by 17%. While British Columbia only saw a drop of 1.4%. But that data was a bit old by May of 2023, which is when Alberta's success was announced. British Columbia had publicly released data up to and including April of 2023. But when asked, the Alberta government said it could only provide data until January.
Starting point is 00:41:32 Something seemed off, so leading drug researcher Benjamin Perrin decided to put in a freedom of information application for that data. And it was only after the May election that saw the same United Conservative Party re-elected to govern the province that the data was released. And it tells a very different story about the Alberta model. A comparison of the month of April 2022 and April 2023 revealed that drug poisoning deaths in Alberta actually increased by 46%. By comparison, British Columbia also reported an increase, but it was much less 17%. And as mentioned at the beginning of this episode, Statistics Canada has just released new data showing that since 2019, the average life expectancy for Canadians has decreased
Starting point is 00:42:34 by almost a year and continues to trend downward, thanks to the opioid crisis. But Alberta is one of two provinces where life expectancy has decreased by more than two years, according to a provincial breakdown reported by Adam Toye for Global News. There are no safe supply programs running in Alberta, nor in Saskatchewan, where life expectancy has decreased by 2.5 years. Like every other time in history where abstinence and prohibition have not worked to curb drug use, Alberta tried the same approach and got the same result. Except this time, with the contamination of the illegal drug supply causing so many accidental poisoning deaths, the stakes are so much higher.
Starting point is 00:43:27 The simple truth is that as we continue to fight amongst ourselves, accepting the presentation of misleading data as evidence for certain claims while suppressing data that proves the opposite, more and more Canadians are dying. Obviously, both sides, all sides of the political spectrum are guilty of this. But why do they do it? Why are they doubling down on dodgy political arguments when thousands of lives are at stake? And as evidence by the comment sections, why are we allowing them to get away with it? A solution to the real-world problem of drug poisoning deaths cannot be solved by imposing an ideological solution. It cannot be solved by a binary all or nothing approach of harm
Starting point is 00:44:19 reduction versus abstinence, because all of these approaches are needed to solve this problem. Safe is supply and harm reduction services are obviously not perfect, but we haven't really given them much of a real chance. Yes, there are problems and issues to deal with, but that's what pilot projects are all about, assessing the impact and fixing the problems that come up. And it's always a good idea for journalists and researchers to continue to investigate and ask questions. But how are we supposed to identify what needs to be tweaked and improved if reporting is politically driven with politicians fear-mongering about decriminalization, opposing life-saving measures like harm reduction programs,
Starting point is 00:45:07 and deliberately misrepresenting data in their efforts to declare victory. If we truly are serious about finding a solution that actually reduces the number of Canadians dying from drug poisoning and prevents life expectancy from getting even worse, we have to do better. And we have to demand that our politicians do better, regardless of party, ideology or jurisdiction. The lives of our loved ones are at stake, if not now, than in the future. Next. Next, so where does it leave the loved ones of Sophie Briehn, Seth McLean, Sky Crasweller, Morgan Goodridge, and thousands of others? The job market isn't changing, it's already changed.
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Starting point is 00:46:55 Uber teen accounts. Invite your teen to join your Uber account today. Available on select locations. See app for details. and select locations, see app for details. In 2020, the advocacy group Mom Stopped the Harm conducted a study to learn more about the health outcomes of families affected by substance use, in collaboration with the University of British Columbia. The study involved polling over 300 respondents who had a loved one actively using, or who had lost a loved one actively using.
Starting point is 00:47:50 Naturally, they reported high rates of depression and anxiety. Nearly 90% said they would benefit from support to cope with their grief, but almost half felt judged by peers because of their loved ones' cause of death, and 15% said that stigma had prevented them from getting help. The financial cost and availability of appropriate services were barriers for 30% of the family surveyed. The opioid crisis is exponentially harming people who do not use drugs but love someone who does or who did.
Starting point is 00:48:26 And so now we have a big swath of the population, grieving sisters, brothers, parents, children and friends who are experiencing trauma and loss of a loved one because of opioids. While loss and trauma are not the only cause of addiction, they are certainly prominent risk factors. It's distressing to think that the effects of Canada's slow and limited response to the opioid crisis will spill over into the next generation. The grieving families who participated in this series would say it's time to stop doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Starting point is 00:49:12 Sophie Brin's mother Mary is one of them. Sophie was extremely knowledgeable about drugs, addiction and treatment options and had almost finished her undergraduate degree in social work. She was active in the community helping others experiencing the same challenges she faced and continued to face. So after Sophie died on March 4 of 2020, her family decided to take up her fight. Here is her mother Mary Brinnegan to tell us what happened next. Sophie has been such an advocate for herself and others who lived with mental illness and addiction. I knew she would want us to keep trying to change minds.
Starting point is 00:49:58 Of necessity, that's where much of my energy has gone these last three years. I have no stomach for confronting politicians or policymakers directly. I spent decades of my energy has gone on these last three years. I have no stomach for confronting politicians or policymakers directly. I spent decades of my career doing advocacy around other social issues and burn myself out, but I do write about Sophie all the time. When I published something in a mainstream newspaper, of course trolls make some stupid hurtful comments. But more people reach out with kindness and compassion, and occasionally someone says I've changed their perception about drug use and drug users, which is all I need to hear.
Starting point is 00:50:36 I've joined Mom Stop the Harm, a national nonprofit group founded by some badass women with a rapidly growing membership of the loved ones of people who are at risk or have succumbed to substance use related harm. It does both advocacy and grief support. It organizes and trains volunteers to run peer support groups all over the country. Some for the family members of people who are still alive, some for those who are grieving. I facilitated Group in Toronto, which just keeps gaining new members. I'm constantly doing intake calls with people who may or may not feel ready to join a group, but at least they've taken the first step of finding out what's available.
Starting point is 00:51:18 What the members mostly do, is bear witness to each other's pain without the added burden of shame or stigma. We know who our kids were. We know the story of their lives is about so much more than their deaths. We've got a wide demographic from people who ride the subway to people who drive porches.
Starting point is 00:51:38 Nobody is immune. Almost three years after Sophie's death, her sister and I chose to participate in the sentencing hearing of the young man who sold Sophie the fentanyl that killed her. We listened to the events of that night, not that we had forgotten any details, as they were entered into testimony. Sophie's full text thread with this man was read into court, he was not a very savvy drug dealer leaving evidence in plain sight. He wasn't much of a drug dealer at all. In fact, he was addicted to drugs and sometimes bought for friends. We'd been invited to prepare victim-impact statements, which were read aloud by our very compassionate victim services
Starting point is 00:52:25 liaison. We looked the young man in the eye. We had known him 10 years ago when he briefly dated Sophie. We all cried. Glad seems like an inappropriate word to use to describe any of this. Grateful would be an overstatement. Relieved doesn't quite cover it. But we know we were lucky to receive the treatment we did. I don't know anyone else who's had the benefit of a victim's seresis liaison. She kept us informed throughout the long delays involved in the court process. She set up a meeting between me and the Crown Prosecutor, whose hard-line approach I did not support. This helped me formulate what
Starting point is 00:53:05 I wanted to say to the judge. We are glad to have set our peace. We are glad to have been seen by the judge and the lawyers, the court reporter, the news reporters, and the defendants, friends and family. We're glad to have heard all the ways in which Sophie's former friend has turned his life around since March 2020. He is no longer using drugs. He has accepted all kinds of help in his recovery. He confessed to his actions the minute he was arrested, and we could see his genuine remorse, not warning in court. My daughter Emma and I both expressed in our victim impact statements that to imprison
Starting point is 00:53:47 this 34-year-old man would do him a great deal of harm and achieve nothing good. This is not to say he is blameless. Accountability and punishment are two different things. He must have seen how ill and vulnerable Sophie was to request fentanyl. He had to know the risk he was exposing her to. Though he told the court he was using so much of his own product at the time, he was affected not only by poor judgment but by delusions. Sophie's death may well have saved this man's life.
Starting point is 00:54:21 Our position was that it would be pointless to risk it now by sending him to jail. Despite the outcome, we did not want to see one guy's gate goaded for what is a complex problem. The crown wandered him behind bars for three years, entirely as a symbol of the devastation caused by fentanyl. Of course it's devastating, the devastation continues unabated, because governments are either indifferent or squeamish about taking on such a political hot potato. Nobody in power wants to admit they failed, in the end the young man received a two-year conditional sentence, which made sense to us. Whether Sophie would ultimately have succumbed to her complex mental illnesses, no one can say.
Starting point is 00:55:09 She had spent her short adult life trying to survive. She was engaged to be married. She had almost finished her undergrad degree in social work. An incredible accomplishment, given how many times Illness forced her to take time away from her studies. Sophie felt deeply frustrated and ashamed that she hadn't graduated yet. When the University of Guelph granted her degree posthumously, it made me cry extra hard.
Starting point is 00:55:35 It reminded me of the devastating final scene involving the character of Pensatucky on Orange is the new black. Assuming she has not passed her high school equivalency exam after getting off drugs and studying incredibly hardwell in jail, she did objectively take some math and dyes. Then it's revealed that she did pass. The two narratives have nothing in common except the heartbreak of perceived failure and how everything can change in an instant. Sophie always felt she had to work even when she wasn't well enough, partly because of her very strong work ethic and partly because she couldn't come close to making ends meet
Starting point is 00:56:15 on her Ontario disability support payments. When absenteeism would end a job, she would feel a bit of relief and a lot of stress which didn't help manners. Ironically, or maybe just sadly, had she lived past March 2020, she could have collected Serb, which at a subsistence level of $2,000 a month would have been doubled what she received under disability. During the pandemic when I was trapped in my apartment alone to ruminate, I was sometimes think, glad Sophie doesn't have to deal with this.
Starting point is 00:56:48 The isolation and fear would be more than she could handle. Grief is not very rational. No one is prepared for the death of a child or sibling, regardless of the circumstances. One of the most catastrophic and confounding things about Sylvie's death was just how random it felt. After so much effort and courage on her part, after getting through the periods that were so hard she sometimes self-armed. After bouncing back time after time, in a flash she was gone, it felt profoundly unfair.
Starting point is 00:57:23 She died, wearing the vintage art deco engagement ring she loves. She would have made a nice dinner with those lamb chomps she took out to thaw. Our family was not the victim of one particular criminal offense, but rather a series of interlocking and deeply inadequate services, systems, and policies that failed so be repeatedly. She could not find or access the treatment she needed. In fairness, the research legs behind. There's so much we don't know about the brain. Our understanding and mental illness, including addiction, seems akin to our understanding of transmissible diseases before germ theory, we wish all
Starting point is 00:58:05 the scientists God's feet in their work. There is, however, plenty of scientific evidence that tells us what not to do. Let pharmaceutical companies push addictive drugs onto patients that of sheer greed, criminalize drug users, and cling irrationally to the discredited strategy of prohibition. All I can do now is honor Sophie by talking and writing about her for the rest of my life. Thanks for listening and special thanks to the families of Seth McLean, Morgan Goodridge and Sophie Brin for generously giving their time to participate in this series. SkyCraftsweller had no identifiable family to contact, so special thanks to Danielle
Starting point is 00:58:59 Paradee, Métis journalist and educator for indigenous content advice. This series has been a true collaboration. The idea and original concept for it was the brainchild of Shelby Prokop Malar, who also selected the four case studies. Sophie Brin was one of those case studies and I contacted her mother, Mary Fairhurst Brin, who was a published author in her own right. As well as published articles including the Globe and Mail piece about the sentencing hearing, Mary's riveting yet bittersweet memoir called Any Kind of Luck at All was published
Starting point is 00:59:39 last year. All about her family's history with mental illness and addiction. You'll find a link to it in the show notes. Mary has a way with words and despite the dark subject matter, she's unfailingly honest with a quirky, punchy and often humorous writing style. I loved listening to her narrate her book on Audible, and as we got to talking about this series, I asked her if she was interested in taking the lead on writing it, which she was. Mary also contacted and interviewed the families of Morgan Goodridge and Seth McLean for this series. I doubt that I ever would have
Starting point is 01:00:18 been able to do this on my own, so I'm eternally grateful to no Mary Fairhurst Breene and look forward to collaborating with her again in the future. We resisted the urge to make this a five-part series, but if you want to learn more about the opioid crisis in Canada, from someone who rises above ideology to focus on the truth, the evidence, I highly recommend Benjamin Perrin's best-selling book, Overdose, Heartbreak and Hope in Canada's opioid crisis. As an FYI, he has another highly anticipated book coming out this fall called Enditement, the Criminal Justice System on Trial, which is all about Canada's failed criminal justice system and better ways to address harm in society.
Starting point is 01:01:06 I'm very much looking forward to reading or listening to that. If you enjoyed this series, we would love for you to tell a friend or leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. For the full list of resources we relied on for this series, and anything else you want to know about the podcast, see the show notes or visit Canadian True Crime Donates Monthly to help those facing injustice. In honour of August 31st International Overdose Awareness Day, we've donated to Mum's Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian families impacted by substance
Starting point is 01:01:46 use-related harms and deaths, who advocate for the change of failed drug policies, provide peer support to grieving families, and assist those with loved ones who use or have used substances. Learn more at Mary Fairhurst Brin is the lead writer and producer on this series, with original concept, case selection and research by Shelby Prokop Malar. Audio editing was by Nico from the Inki Paul Print, aka We Talk of Dreams, who also composed the theme songs.
Starting point is 01:02:24 And production assistance was by Jesse at the Inki-Paw Print. Script consulting by Carol Weinberg. Danielle Parade is our indigenous content advisor. An additional research and writing creative direction and sound design was by me. The disclaimer was voiced by Eric Crosby. I'll be back soon with another Canadian True Crime Story. See you then. you

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