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Local moms heading to Ottawa push for action on overdose crisis

'This is a public health emergency. It’s affected families across the country that have been forever changed'
From left, Cheryl Offord, Christine Nayler, Angela Vos and Irene Reilly are hoping to effect change in Ottawa.

Angela Vos, Cheryl Offord, Christine Nayler and Irene Reilly don’t want other moms to experience what they’ve been through.

So, the four area women hopped into a car Tuesday bound for Ottawa in hopes of effecting change.

The women, who have all lost children to drug overdoses, are supporting the movement of the Bill C-216 to committee for study.

“It’s a start. It’s the beginning of something,” said Offord. “Shylynn was in and out of the justice system and I think if there was a law in Canada to help them towards treatment instead of sending them to jail continuously, they (wouldn’t be) setting them up for failure.”

Bill C-216 takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing the country’s overdose crisis, one Nayler describes as a comprehensive health-based approach. 

It includes decriminalization of possession of personal drugs, automatic expungement, safe supply and more funding for treatment and recovery programs.

In presenting the private member’s bill, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns refers to the 27,000 Canadians who have died since 2016, and the 20 Canadians dying daily from fatal drug poisoning.

“This is a public health emergency. It’s affected families across the country that have been forever changed,” said Nayler, co-founder and director of Ryan’s Hope, named after the son she lost to drugs. “We just can no longer just not address it and put politics over people’s lives.”

Just as the area women began their trip Thursday to address the country’s overdose epidemic, British Columbia moved ahead with its own initiative and was granted an exemption allowing it to decriminalize possession of some illegal drugs for personal use.

The goal in Ottawa on Wednesday is for the bill to be sent to committee for study and debate by MPs and where they will hear from experts and those with lived experience.

The women expect to meet with other advocates and mothers from across the country who are supporting the bill.

“The war on drugs doesn’t work. It is harming people and it’s time for a new approach,” said Nayler. “I think people are seeing that and now it’s time for the politicians to wake up and listen to what people are saying across the country.”

Offord’s goal is to support others who are going through the same struggles as she did with having a child suffering with substance abuse.

Her daughter, Shylynn, started using drugs at age 16 while being bullied at school, and by age 18 was taking it intravenously.

“In the end, she was incarcerated. She was in and out of jail continuously due to addiction and the habits of life,” said her mom.

Although she took programming while in jail and applied for ongoing help, she was denied and was released April 12, 2019, without support. Offord, from Barrie, said her daughter was dead two days later due to a relapse.

“Trying to find help felt like it was a dead end, no matter where we were,” said Offord.

She feels the emergency departments, police and justice system all lacked compassion.

“We are extremely excited to be going, but very nervous, too,” added Vos, from Tiny Township.

Vos’s 26-year-old son, Jordan, died in jail after she had asked for help for his addictions issues. She said even though he was scanned twice, he was able to keep a stash of drugs on him and he died at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay on June 3, 2020.

Shortly after, she became involved in advocating for change.

“I realized what my son was suffering was a mental health disorder and that he was being criminalized and demoralized for trying to self-medicate when medications were not available for him,” she said. “We dealt with a lot of stigmas.

“I want to eliminate some of these stigmas and help some of these other moms that are out there still struggling with their children that they weren’t alone and we need to change the policies because our children deserve to survive.”