Families shine light on stigma at Sudbury town hall on tainted drug crisis

The families of those lost to tainted drug overdoses in Sudbury raised their voices publicly at a town hall on the opioid crisis in Sudbury on Saturday.They are sending the message that their loved ones transcend statistics and that the stigma of addiction needs to lift in order to fight toxic opioids such as fentanyl.

Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West organized this second public session due to demand for information

Days before a town hall on the tainted drug crisis in Sudbury, Timmins Police seized over $4k worth of purple heroin, or 'purp' shown here. (Timmins Police Service)

The families of those lost to tainted drug overdoses in Sudbury raised their voices publicly at a town hall on the opioid crisis in Sudbury on Saturday.

They are sending the message that their loved ones transcend statistics and the stigma of addiction needs to lift in order to fight toxic opioids such as fentanyl.

Lisa Toner is a Community Outreach Co-ordinator with Reseau Access Network and spoke to the crowd of about sixty. She said changing the language around the issue could increase understanding and support for people struggling with addiction.

"It's putting people first. It's recognizing that substance abuse and addiction are not the whole person, that it is a part of their lives and it doesn't necessarily define who they are.," she said. "Using words like 'addict' just doesn't accurately define who people are."

Terry Jenkins (left) told her personal story of losing her son to addiction at a town hall Saturday in Sudbury. Lisa Toner, community outreach co-ordinator with Reseau Access Network, also spoke on the issue of tainted drugs in Sudbury. (Kate Rutherford (CBC))

That theme ran through many of the other comments from those gathered for the town hall.

One mother came forward with her story of the toll addiction has taken through the generations.

Terry Jenkins said her first experience with addiction came at birth. Her mother used drugs, and she had to be de-toxed after being born. 

Jenkins has had addictions as well, the most current one is food. But she told the crowd that addictions are merely coping mechanisms. The real problems are rooted in trauma.

"I was looking for that disconnect," she said. "To stop feeling. To run from the pain which is why most addictions begin in the first place. Pain, trauma, abuse, neglect, abandonment. There is a direct correlation between these childhood experiences and addiction."

It is something that her ex-partner also struggled with and it claimed his life, and then, the life of her son.

A year ago, Jenkins said her son injected heroin for the first time and it killed him.

Food is her addiction now, she said. For the past year, she said she's been "eating herself numb."

Still, Jenkins feels that there is hope and help. But the stigma needs to lift to truly take action against the problem.

"It is an epidemic of unprecedented proportions and the biggest health crisis of our generation and the reality of it is our people are being poisoned."

Amanda Byrne is keeping her brother, Ryan's, memory alive. She says she wants to make sure his death due to a drug overdose never becomes a statistic. (Kate Rutherford (CBC))

Another family is trying to make sure their lost one is also remembered.

Amanda Byrne lost her brother last August in Sudbury of a drug overdose.

"My brother was an amazing man, a hard worker, the best uncle any child could have ever asked for, a loving son. I know he didn't want to leave pain and destruction in his wake. He was just as helpless in all of this as we were in trying to help him." she said.

Byrne said she thought the town hall was useful as a way for families to paint a fuller picture of the devastation caused by opioids and the toll on families. 

"More people need to come out and speak their voice and bring their stories forward, or dare I say their nightmares forward, because we need to give these people their faces back.," she said.

However, she is angry that no one is being held accountable.

"People who are putting these toxic drugs on the streets that are taking and ripping our families apart need to be charged with murder."

That's something that panelist Staff Sergeant Rick Waugh has heard before. He agrees that action needs to be taken but there are limits.

"This level of killing people is far greater than we've seen before but, legislatively, there's nothing there," said Waugh.

Waugh said he has been involved with the investigations of nearly all of the sixty people killed by drugs in the past two years.

Sgt. Rick Waugh oversees Greater Sudbury Police Service's drug unit (Erik White/CBC)

Earlier this month, 23 year-old Devon Lachance died after taking purple fentanyl.

His friend, Daniella Stevens wanted to make sure people at the town hall knew some things about him.

"He was a brilliant musician, an animal lover, a caring friend, he was a kid with a heart of gold," she said.

"He was the funniest person you would ever meet."

She said work needs to be done to mend the safety net for people like Devon in Sudbury.

"There are holes in the system and that's Sudbury's problem. There are no safe spaces, there's a lack of funding, a lack of health care, mental health is severely neglected. I see it all the time."


Kate Rutherford


Kate Rutherford is a CBC newsreader and reporter in Sudbury. She reaches across northern Ontario to connect with people and their stories. She has worked as a journalist in Saint John, N.B and calls Halifax, N.S. home.


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