Kanata parents with drug-addicted children go to meeting hoping for answers

About 200 parents attended a meeting in Kanata Thursday night looking not just for support, but for ways to keep their drug-addicted teens alive.

Some parents say their struggle right now is keeping children alive, and that treatment will have to wait

Sean O'Leary organized the meeting in Kanata, saying he's 'losing the battle of saving my daughter's life.' (Steve Fischer/CBC)

Sean O'Leary expected "about 10, maybe 20 people" would turn out for a Thursday night meeting he organized.

Instead, about 200 parents, many of them grim-faced, packed a meeting room at the Kanata Recreation Complex, looking for answers and mutual support as they struggle to help their teenage children who are addicted to opioids.

... I am losing the battle to save my daughter's life.- Sean O'Leary, meeting organizer

O'Leary did not shy away from his personal story, bluntly telling the crowd he called the meeting "because I am losing the battle to save my daughter's life."

"We've been through a very hard time in Kanata with the loss of a couple of children [from suspected fentanyl overdoses] in the last eight weeks, and this is the time to start talking and communicating because this problem is not going to be solved by government or anything else, it has got to be solved by the parents," he told CBC News in an interview before the meeting.

Parents admit some children not ready for treatment

No cameras or recording equipment were allowed at the meeting.

Several addiction counselors and public health officials spoke about counseling, treatment and detoxification programs, but many of the parents admitted their children are not yet at the point where they are ready for that type of help

kanata recreation complex at night
About 200 parents turned out for the meeting at the Kanata Recreation Complex. (Steve Fischer/CBC)

Instead, most of their questions underlined the fact they're in the midst of a crisis. Parents wanted to know how to test pills they find in their children's possession, and what to do if they find their son or daughter overdosing, or in cardiac arrest. 

Public health officials said there is no quick or easy way to test drugs, and instead suggested parents try to get their teens to go to a doctor for a blood test, which might be able to determine which drug was recently ingested.

Parents were also told the test needs to happen within a day or two of taking the drug and would require the teenager to agree to the blood work. But that would be a huge challenge, according to some of the parents.

Many in audience have witnessed an OD

When asked if anyone in the room had ever witnessed their child or a friend of their child overdosing, more than two dozen people put up their hands, some becoming emotional as they looked around at familiar faces in the crowd.

Pharmacist Mark Barnes showed parents how to use the naloxone kits distributed at the meeting, which include two vials of the drug, two syringes, gloves and a resuscitation mouth guard. (Steve Fischer/CBC)

That's why there was rapt attention as paramedic Deanna Schofield explained the basics of performing CPR and pharmacist Mark Barnes demonstrated how to use a naloxone kit.

Naloxone blocks or reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and has no adverse effect if the person has not taken an opioid.

Barnes explained the syringe would have to be stuck into the large muscle area of the leg or arm, and if it fails to bring the person around, another dose can be administered within three to five minutes.

Naloxone kits distributed

He acknowledged some parents would find that task difficult in such a dire situation and that their hands might shake, but he told them the alternative might well be watching their child die.

By the end of the meeting, both boxes of naloxone kits were empty. (Steve Fischer/CBC)

Barnes added that parents should always call 911 as well, because even if naloxone is effective in bringing the teenager around, he or she could still die because naloxone only temporarily alleviates overdose symptoms.

About 100 naloxone kits, including gloves, two vials of naloxone, two syringes and a resuscitation mask, were made available for free at the back of the meeting room.

By the time the meeting ended, every one of them had been taken.