Desperate parents of drug-addicted teens turning to Ottawa group for help

A grassroots parents' group in Ottawa recently set up to tackle teen opioid drug abuse is now drawing attention from across the country.

We the Parents formed earlier this spring, other municipalities looking at model

Recent board meeting of We the Parents in Kanata, May 2017. (Julie Ireton, CBC)

A grassroots parents' group in Ottawa recently set up to tackle teen opioid drug abuse is now drawing national attention.

The organization We the Parents, which formed earlier this spring, already has a strong online presence and is now fielding calls from concerned parents from across the country.

"In the last eight days I've spoken to 14 different parents who've lost a child, most of them in the last year or so, and a few of them just a few months ago. I think I have good conversations because I live with the fear of it. The reality it could be me any day," said Sean O'Leary, co-founder of We the Parents.

Back in February O'Leary, a Kanata-area businessman and father, first made a public call to action.

He wrote an open letter, pointing to a number of recent overdoses in the west-Ottawa suburbs and urging parents to be on alert.

Group lobbying government for help

Out of this, We the Parents was formed to raise awareness, encourage drug education in schools, lobby for detox beds for kids, advocate for more rehab spaces and receive real-time statistics of overdose cases in Ottawa.

Over the past few weeks, the group has already set up a formal board and has met with cabinet ministers, hospital CEOs and public health authorities.

Most importantly, group members say they want to give support to parents dealing with teens who are addicted to opioids and exposed to fentanyl, the highly addictive and deadly opioid. 

Fentanyl can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine and has too often been the cause of overdose deaths. 

Sean O'Leary is executive director of We the Parents, a group advocating for better services for teens with opioid drug issues. (Julie Ireton/CBC)
"We can't fix the whole drug problem, but we've got to find a way as a community to keep our kids from dying," O'Leary told CBC at the time.

'They're not even in high school and they're already starting to use'

The deaths of two Ottawa girls from suspected fentanyl overdoses this past winter rallied other parents and concerned citizens.

Some board members also have their own experiences with kids and drug use and abuse while others are looking to prevention.

"As an eye-opener, they're not even in high school and they're already starting to use," said Tanya Spirak, mother of a 12-year-old and a We the Parents board member.

"So that's my whole platform about getting that education sooner."

Tanya Spirak is a board member of We the Parents. (Julie Ireton, CBC )

Few resources for help in other municipalities

A mother in Windsor, Lisa Marie McCann, wants to start a chapter of We the Parents in her city.

McCann lost her own son to an opioid addiction late last year. Now she's part of a support group, but she said they have few resources available to them.

"You've got parents saying what do I do? Now they have something to do. They can reach out to them [We the Parents] and get support and guidance," said McCann.

O'Leary said his group intends to help the communities reaching out for assistance, and that the past few weeks have proven parents want to be part of the discussion about teen drug abuse.

In meetings with provincial and federal health ministers, authorities are listening to people like him who know what it's like to live with a teen who's addicted, he said.

"The experts are us," said O'Leary. "We live it every day. Yes you can be a doctor, you can study addiction, but you cannot know what it's like to live in these families ... it's our life."