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The girl was 14 when she started smoking pot, dropped out of volleyball and began skipping school.
As her drug use escalated, she eventually moved on to MDMA, heroin, fentanyl and a whole cocktail of substances, despite all her mother’s efforts to get her help.
Three years later, at 17, she was nearly dead. She had turned blue by the time the ambulance picked her up after an overdose one morning in July, though her mom still doesn’t know exactly what she was using. Was it heroin, maybe laced with fentanyl? Her mother Vanisha wonders.
The girl had track marks all over her arms and across the backs of her knees.
Vanisha appeared before a judge several times to have her daughter placed in court-ordered detox. Eventually, the girl agreed to take another shot at treatment, securing a spot at the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre in southeast Calgary in mid-October.
“These last two weeks, this is the most I have seen her in months,” said Vanisha, whose last name the Herald has chosen not to publish to protect her daughter’s privacy. “And she’s healthy; she’s put some weight back on. She’s sober. I can have a conversation with her. I can hug her. I can tell her I love her. She tells me she loves me, too.”
The Calgary mom is expected to share her experiences at a workshop on the dangers of fentanyl, slated for Thursday night at the recovery centre where her daughter is receiving treatment.
Janine Copeland, clinical director at the recovery centre, said she first started noticing clients abusing fentanyl two and a half years ago. Since then, the problem has only gotten worse, with an escalating death toll and mounting frustrations with long waits for addictions treatment.
Last year, authorities reported 120 deaths linked to the drug, up to 100 times more potent than morphine. This year’s death toll is on track to more than double the 2014 tally, with roughly 300 fatal overdoses expected by Jan. 1.
The recovery centre is treating 25 patients who are in their teens and early 20s, six of whom have abused fentanyl. For two of them, it was their drug of choice.
Fentanyl, which can be lethal even in small doses, can be “very easy” to find for teenagers who are “in the drug lifestyle,” according to Copeland, who learns about Calgary’s drug culture through her young clients.
“People describe walking down the street and if they look sketchy people will approach them while they’re walking down 17th Avenue and say, ‘Hey, do you want greenies or green beans,’” Copeland said, referring to some of fentanyl’s street names.
Like Vanisha’s daughter, young users are combining drugs a lot more than they used to, “trying to get a desired high,” which means they may mix fentanyl with crack or methamphetamine, Copeland said.
And like Vanisha, parents often feel lonely and helpless, desperate to know where to go or what to do.
Now that her daughter’s in treatment, Vanisha feels like she has something to hold onto, a sense of relief that she knows the girl is safe.
“I know she’s in treatment, and I know there are no guarantees, but right now today, I have my daughter. And so I’m grateful for the moment I have right now with her. I know she’s safe, and I know she’s not on the street somewhere.”
Most little girls dream of getting married. They dream of how their prince will come and rescue them and they will live happily ever after in the beautiful castle on the hill.
When I was a little girl I dreamed of becoming a prostitute. I would have fancy clothes and I would get to decide who got to have me instead of being taken by whomever, whenever and wherever. Being a prostitute seemed like the most obvious choice, as I believed I must have had “molest me”, written on my forehead.
Instead of leaving my small town and running away to the big city, at the age of 12, I found my solace, my escape, in alcohol. Drinking until I could not walk or I passed out was the only way I knew how to drink.
Alcohol to me meant broken and bloody people, broken things and smashed up cars. Alcohol was losing jobs, homes and people. Alcohol was destructive and desired. It was fun times filled with blacked out moments. Alcohol was everywhere in my family and there was no escaping it.
I lost my mother to schizophrenia when I was around nine or ten years old. Losing my mother to her sickness was heart wrenching as she became someone I did not know or understand.
Her paranoid delusions only became worse with every day, sometimes putting my younger brother and myself outside in the winter in our pyjamas and bare feet. To this day I do not know who she thought we were. Eventually my mother would be taken to a mental institution. A short while after my mother was hospitalised my family dissolved and I ended up in foster care.
When I was 18 years old I entered a 12 step program for my first meeting. I knew that if I did not stop drinking, I would end up dead or in a mental institution just like my mother. Entering this 12 step program was the beginning of me reclaiming my life. After years of abuse, neglect and a hopeless existence I had tangible hope for the first time in my life.
The next few years were bumpy. By 21 years of age, I had married and divorced my first husband, leaving with my 1.5-year-old daughter. I could no longer stand for abuse, and having my daughter had finally given me the courage and strength to want more out of life. If not a better life for me, than I would make sure it would be a better life for her.
A few years later I would marry again and have three more children. Life was good, even great. We built a successful company and lived in a beautiful home. We had lots of friends and were very involved in our church community. One day it all ended. My husband of nearly 10 years had been molesting my eldest daughter from the time she was 7.5 years old and she was now 14. My daughter, the daughter I vowed to make a better life for, was being abused. This was not supposed to happen.
That tragedy ended our family and ended the lives we all knew. My children and I spiralled into poverty over the next few years. And I spiralled once more into the disease of alcoholism. Peter was convicted and received two years less a day, being allowed to serve his sentence within the community. The kids and I lived out our own sentence which seemed to last much longer.
I have never felt as isolated and abandoned as I did in those first few years after our marriage dissolved. In one moment believing our future could not get any brighter, and in an instant not knowing if we would even survive to see tomorrow. The devastation that the abuse on my daughter caused stretched far into the days ahead, and not one of us would ever be the same again.
After years of struggling with alcohol addiction I found my way back through the doors of that same 12 step program. Today I am sober, but by the grace of God there go I. I wish I could write that we are now living happily ever after. I could almost write that if not for my daughter Eden, who now herself, is lost in a world of drug addiction. Ed (Eden) started using marijuana at 14 and very quickly progressed to other harder drugs.
For the last three years Ed has been struggling with her addiction. Eden has been using meth, heroine, fentanyl, and cocaine. Our Canadian legislation is such that I cannot do anything to intervene as her mother, even though she is a minor, a child. The only court order I am able to obtain is a 10-day PCHAD (Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act) order for her to safely detox. After 10 days (15 if I re-apply for a 5 day extension) Eden is released. I have no rights as her mother to enforce treatment.
Eden overdosed on heroine this past summer in July. It is like being forced to sit on the sidelines watching someone you love slowly die by suicide.
Today I am advocating for change to our legislation. We must change the laws to allow us as parents to help our children when they can no longer help themselves. Eden is killing herself with her drug use. Every day she puts herself at risk, every single day. Prostitution, sex trafficking and criminal behaviour accompanies this kind of drug use. Youth addiction is on the rise and will only get worse unless we step in. Fentanyl alone is destroying lives, and destroying families.
Together we can make significant changes to the way we view addiction and the way we communicate concerning addiction. Addiction is not a moral failing. Through compassion, understanding and having an open mind we can educate people and raise awareness on addiction.
Without the shame and stigmatism that accompany addiction, I believe more families would come forward sooner. More children would be saved with early detection. Addiction does not have to become that bottomless pit with eventual death. There is hope; we create hope every time we come forward. I will continue to speak out and share my story, and my story concerning my daughter, Eden. No person or family should have to walk this road alone, ever. We make hope possible. Together we make change possible.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
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