Manitoba

'We need to fight': Mothers who lost kids to drug addiction call for change this Mother's Day

This Mother's Day a group of Manitoba mothers who have lost children to drug addiction are joining women from across Canada, the United States and Mexico to share their stories and call for changes to how addiction is viewed and dealt with across North America.

International campaign brings eight calls to action to social media

Christine Dobbs lost her son Adam Watson, 27, to a fentanyl overdose in February 2016 and is now one of the leaders of Manitoba’s chapter of Moms Stop the Harm. (CBC)

On this Mother's Day, a group of Manitoba mothers who have lost children to drug addiction are joining women from across Canada, the United States and Mexico to share their stories and call for changes to how addiction is viewed and dealt with across North America.

The #listentomom campaign aims to remove the stigma surrounding drug addiction.

"We're losing people here and we need to fight a hard fight," said Winnipegger Christine Dobbs, whose son Adam Watson died of a fentanyl overdose in February 2016.

"From that day forward, I said my son is not going to die in vain and I'm going to save your son and your daughter by coming out and talking about it, and getting the changes that need to happen."

Adam Watson, 27, died on Feb. 6 after a long struggle with an addiction to fentanyl and other opiates. (Supplied by Christine Dobbs)

Dobbs is now one of the leaders of Manitoba's chapter of Moms Stop the Harm, a national network of mothers who have lost children to addiction, now working to make changes in Canada.

The national group teamed up with U.S. group Moms United to End the War on Drugs, and a group with the same goals in Mexico for the campaign, which started May 6 and has seen a meme shared on social media each day with one of eight calls to action.

They're calling for an end to the criminalization of drug users, a coordinated response to the overdose crisis from all levels of government, better training for health providers, and an end to the 'tough love' and trauma support for those left behind.

They also want more support for "mothers across borders" affected by the war on drugs, particularly mothers of those who have disappeared in Mexico, and Indigenous women who are disproportionately affected in Canada.

"There's a lot more work to be done," said Dobbs.

Health system not prepared

Watson, who was 27 when he died, first told his parents about his addiction in 2010. He tried several times to find help to quit his addiction, said Dobbs, including going into detox at the Main Street Project and a number of trips to city emergency rooms.

But Dobbs said he never got the treatment he needed.

"The health system was not prepared to deal with opiate addictions — I wasn't prepared — when my son finally told me that he was suffering from oxycontin addiction … I looked at him and said 'What is that?'," remembered Dobbs. "Once you're addicted it's very painful to go through withdrawals without some medical assistance.

"For six years we struggled and battled the system to try to get help."

Christine Dobbs and Lang Watson are speaking out about the lack of help for opiate addiction after their son's death. 3:39

It's why Dobbs says she supports the provincial government's recently announced plan to open five "quick-access" addiction clinics in Manitoba, something she and others from Manitoba's chapter of Moms Stop the Harm helped to advocate for.

The proposed quick-access program, which will be run out of five existing centres in Manitoba, is modelled after an Ontario program and will integrate opioid replacement therapy into primary care, in addition to providing assessment, counselling and prescriptions for appropriate medications.

Dobbs said her son may have survived his addiction had these clinics been around when he was looking for help. She said that lack of resources is why the campaign's calls for education and compassion within the public health system resonate so deeply with her.

Adam Watson's parents say their son tried to get help but the medical treatment he needed for his fentanyl addiction was not available in Winnipeg. (Supplied)

"Because of the way we were treated, the way there was no understanding of what my son was going through," she said. "Doctors and nurses and practitioners needed to be educated about it and they weren't.

"People need to realize this is a health issue and you're going to treat people like they should be treated because they're sick — they have a disease."

The final call to action falls on Mother's Day.

"The call to action is to put a candle in the window for the March of Mothers of Missing Children due to the War on Drugs in Mexico," said Dobbs, adding supporters are being asked to  take a picture of the candle and post it to social media.

"It's slow, it's a hard struggle, and it's hard on the heart, but we're going to keep going with it." 

With files from Leif Larsen and Dana Hatherly