Parents of children with drug addictions in Alberta’s Capital Region are leaning on each other for support and collectively calling for more to be done to prevent overdose deaths.
Audrey Stewart’s 35-year-old son has been addicted to drugs for more than two decades.
“He was 10 years old. On the school grounds, somebody approached him and offered him something. It was marijuana,” she explained. “He said it made him feel better.”
Stewart feels marijuana was her son’s gateway drug – leading him to try more and more dangerous concoctions. His behaviour began to change drastically.
“There’d be a lot of damage to our home,” she said. “Fists through the walls, breaking things, flareups in anger. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then we would leave Friday and he wouldn’t come home until Sunday night. I couldn’t wake him up for school.”
When her son eventually got in trouble with the law, an officer directed her to Parents Empowering Parents (PEP Society), a support group.
“When I first came here, I thought it was an opportunity to learn to fix my son. I quickly learned it’s not about fixing my son. It’s about helping me and my husband deal with what’s happening in our lives.”
At weekly PEP meetings, Stewart started to meet other parents who were going through the same struggles – like Craig Wehner.
“Chaos at home, not knowing where the kids are – you know they’re getting up to no good. You don’t know if they’re going to come home,” he explained.
Wehner tried to nip his son’s drug experimentation in the bud and was successful. Still, he comes to PEP meetings each Tuesday.
“They supported me in my downtime. It’s just horrific. We’ve got parents here that have lost children in their own homes.”
He said the group helped him know how to deal with his son’s addiction.
“We’ve got to be strong as parents so when the addict wants to turn his life around to get better, we’re there to support it. It’s a journey for both parties.”
PEP was co-founded 12 years ago by three women, including Maralyn Benay, a former social worker.
While today fentanyl and carfentanil are the most lethal drugs, back then it was something different.
“We were identifying that these kids were on crystal meth,” Benay said. “Nobody knew what to do about crystal meth. You were going to be addicted when you tried it the first time.”
Lately, Benay says her support line – 780-293-0737 – has been especially busy.
“I’m getting more calls every day. I’m getting calls from grandparents who have grandchildren living with them addicted to fentanyl. They can’t even pronounce it, they can’t even spell it. They don’t know what to do.”
This week alone, she’s attending two funerals for young people that have died from overdoses.
“They’re bright, they have hobbies. They have a lot of potential. Everybody looks at them and says they’ve got it all together. But underneath there’s a sadness, there’s a sorrow. We need to figure out where that sorrow is coming from.”
Benay said she’s happy to hear about safe injection sites and naloxone kits in the hands of first responders but she thinks more needs to be done when someone overdoses.
“It’s a cry for help and we’re not taking it further. We’re saying, ‘Would you like some help?’ And of course the addict is going to say, ‘I don’t need help,'” she said. “I hear it all the time.”
PEP runs three different groups: one is a parent support group, one is for young people trying to kick their addictions and a third is for convicted ex-drug dealers.
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