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Addiction killed their kids but these Kelowna moms are fighting back

Image Credit: Shutterstock
September 07, 2016 - 8:00 PM

KELOWNA – Helen Jennens wishes her group wasn’t growing.

It’s made up of moms from Western Canada who have lost children to opiate overdose.

One year ago Moms Stop the Harm had three members, today they have almost 20.

“We want to make the government move on (banning) the pill presses and getting the ingredients for fentanyl on the banned substance list,” she says. “We’ve got to lobby governments and get these things done and get them done now. We don’t have time anymore. Every day we don’t get them done our death toll increases. That’s why my group keeps growing.”

Helen and her husband lost both their sons to accidental overdose. Tyler died in January and his older brother Rian a few years before. She says, like Moms Stop the Harm’s newest two members, she did not want to talk about what happened and kept to herself. Once the group heard Jennen’s story, they contacted her.

“I’ve learned so much since Tyler’s death through this group of moms,” she says. “We hadn’t gotten over Rian’s death. Even though you think you’ve accepted (what happened), you haven’t.”

Tyler Leinweber was a 40-year-old father of two who became addicted to pain medication after doctors prescribed him OxyContin after an injury. He overdosed on what he thought was heroin but was in fact pure fentanyl.
Tyler Leinweber was a 40-year-old father of two who became addicted to pain medication after doctors prescribed him OxyContin after an injury. He overdosed on what he thought was heroin but was in fact pure fentanyl.
Image Credit: Contributed

Now they have turned their attention on what Interior Health considers a growing crisis.

“Our goal is to reduce all harm for people with addiction,” she says. “They need medically assisted treatment long and short term. We need to support their addiction as they step down from it. And also helping them build a life where the necessity to use isn’t so important.”

Jennens and her group plan to lobby the government to repeal Bill C-2, which makes it harder to set up safe injection sites, but they also want to see a shift in how the public and law enforcement see addicts. A series of emails released this summer shows some high level B.C. doctors are suggesting that the crisis may be so bad it could require decriminalization to properly address.

“Because of the stigma around addiction, people don’t understand that it is a real health crisis and it is happening all over the place,” she says. “Unless they have someone they love who is addicted they think it’s a problem with homeless people, but it’s happening in all walks of life. We want to put faces to this crisis so people understand that it can happen to anyone.”

Police say this fake OxyContin pill seized from a West Kelowna warehouse this year was laced with fentanyl.
Police say this fake OxyContin pill seized from a West Kelowna warehouse this year was laced with fentanyl.
Image Credit: RCMP

One of the groups' more controversial goals is to provide real heroin for heroin addicts.

“What is the difference of providing an addict with methadone or suboxone, why not provide them with the real drug that their body’s craving?” she asks. “It’s because taxpayers are saying ‘are you kidding me do you think I’m going to start providing them with heroin?’ Well we’re already providing them with methadone and suboxone and heroin is cheaper.”

She says this realization came in the month before her youngest son overdosed on what he was told was heroin but a coroner says was pure fentanyl.

“I think he understood what was going on in the drug world,” she says. “I think he knew the potential for fentanyl was a real high risk. I think that’s why in November he asked to go see the suboxone doctor in town. I think Tyler was genuinely searching for medically assisted treatment and I fully believe that’s what these addicts need.”


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