British Columbia

Grieving B.C. mother joins advocates for drug decriminalization after daughter's overdose death

After losing her daughter to an overdose, a Prince George, B.C., mother is joining advocates across the country in rallying for reform to Canada's drug laws.

Rallies held across Canada on Feb. 20 to call for government action

Niki Hanson's daughter, Courtney, died of an overdose last year. She was 26. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Niki Hanson is still getting used to the idea her daughter is dead.

"I had a police officer come to my home and tell me," the resident of Prince George, B.C., said.

Her 26-year-old, Courtney, had been alone when she fatally overdosed in Vancouver last October, one of more than 1,420 people counted by the B.C. Coroners Service in what the chief coroner called the province's "most tragic year ever".

Hanson had hoped Courtney could beat the odds. She'd been in and out of treatment, she said, and when she last visited her daughter she seemed "in good spirits."

Still, Hanson knows, Courtney struggled.

Rallies across Canada

​Hanson has found an outlet for her grief: she's thrown herself into advocacy work, joining the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, which calls on governments to include past and current drug users in shaping policy around the overdose crisis.

Last year, the group held rallies in eight Canadian cities on Feb. 20 to mark the overdose crisis.

This year, that number is expanding to include Prince George, where Hanson will be speaking outside the downtown courthouse. Rallies are also being held in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Nicki Hanson said her daughter was alone when she died of an overdose. She believes if decriminzalitation were in place, addicts would be more likely to seek help or use drugs under supervision. (Nicki Hanson)

Hanson said her focus is on decriminalizing drug use in order to reduce the stigma addicts feel, in the hopes that they will be more likely to seek treatment.

"As soon we criminalize people, we're shaming them, and I just don't think that helps," she said. 

Speaking from experience

Hanson speaks not just as a mother, but as a former addict herself. She says in the 1990s she was a regular heroin user, and still considers herself recovering.

She said people turn to drugs for a variety of reasons, and it's important to understand the root causes before trying to legislate a solution.

In her daughter's case, Hanson says drugs were used to cope with social anxiety and depression. She believes if decriminalization had been in place, her daughter would have been more willing to talk to people in her life when she was using and, maybe, would still be alive.

As it is, Hanson hopes her work can help save other lives.

"Our communities are suffering," she said.

"Sometimes, sadly, it takes a tragedy for minds to change."

Hear more from Niki Hanson: 

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