July 19th, 2019

Families sharing loss gather to talk addiction

By Mo Cranker on September 14, 2018.

A number of photos of people locally and provincially who have passed away due to an overdose hang side-by-side at city hall on Sept. 13, 2018.


A small group gathered Thursday evening outside city hall with each member sharing at least one thing with everyone else.

They’ve all lost someone they love to drug addiction.

The local group is part of a national network called Moms Stop the Harm — Canadian families whose loved ones have died due to substance use, or who desperately hope for recovery.

“We’re here to support each other and we’re here to support a cause we believe in,” said Bob Westgarth, whose son Shane died of an overdose on New Year’s Day of last year.

The group spent the evening downtown talking among itself as well as taking time to share stories with members of the local media.

“We thought we prepared my son,” said Kym Porter, whose son Neil died of a fentanyl overdose in 2016. “We talked to him growing up about drug addiction and we talked to him about drug addiction in our family specifically.

“We put him through sports and other healthy activities, he loved reading — but you can never fully prepare someone for addiction.”

Kari Ursulescu was on hand with photos of her partner Riley Dawson, who passed away after a 15-year fight with addiction.

“Addiction is a nightmare that no one wants to be in,” she said. “No one chooses to be addicted to drugs. No one wants to be addicted to drugs — no one wants to throw away their life and their loved ones.

“I saw the battle first hand. It was an everyday fight for Riley and it came to an end far too soon.”

According to HIV Community Link there have been five confirmed overdoses in Medicine Hat in the past 10 days alone, and emergency department visits in southern Alberta are 23 per cent higher than the provincial average.

Medicine Hat will be getting a supervised consumption site before year’s end, a facility that everyone at Thursday’s get-together supported.

“Harm reduction is extremely important,” said Porter. “We’re losing our family members — all of these deaths happening in our community are unnecessary.

“I see the site as a significant support for people battling addiction.”

Ursulescu says a supervised consumption site is a step in the right direction.

“Everything changes once it’s one of your loved ones — I thought it was a choice until I fell in love with an addict,” said Ursulescu. “People can say all they want online but won’t understand addiction until someone close to them is fighting it.

“Addiction is happening in Medicine Hat whether people like it or not. People in our community are dying alone. The supervised consumption site will be there to prevent overdoses — it’s what we need and saying no to that is insane to me.”

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