Leslie McBain lost her son, Jordan Miller, in 2014 from an overdose. Since then she has been a tireless advocate, hoping to prevent more overdose deaths. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Special Report: Mother fights to decriminalize illicit drugs

Vancouver Island woman started advocacy group after losing her son in 2014

Leslie McBain is the mother of a young man who died a tragic and preventable death. But she is anything but complacent in her grief.

She can be seen in government-issued overdose awareness campaigns, involved in the creation of grieving and bereavement resources, the family engagement lead for the BC Centre on Substance Use, and as a co-creator of Moms Stop the Harm – a group that believes the criminalization of drug use is at least partly to blame for the deadly overdose epidemic sweeping North America.

An epidemic that, despite government acknowledgement and increased resources, is showing no signs of slowing down.

RELATED: B.C. opioid overdoses still killing four people a day, health officials say

McBain’s son, Jordan Miller was goofy and outgoing. He wasn’t scared to do heart-stopping skateboard tricks or stand on the edge of a steep rock face.

He had dabbled in drug use before, but his opioid addiction started when he hurt his back at a construction job – a fact which places him amongst the largest portion of employed opioid users. A 2018 Statistics Canada report found that of the British Columbians employed before overdosing, one-fifth worked in construction.

Jordan was prescribed oxycodone to help with the pain and quickly became addicted.

McBain did everything she could to help him. She went with him to see the family doctor for help, but the doctor blamed him for his addiction.

And so his addiction festered, a relentless adversary stalking him through his early 20s. He ‘doctor-shopped’ – going to different clinics with complaints of pain – and walking away with opioids.

Jordan Miller would be about 30-years-old if drugs hadn’t taken his life in 2014. His mother, Leslie McBain, is an outspoken activist, fighting to decriminalize personal-use drugs, reduce stigma and improve available resources, like the safe-supply of replacement drugs. (Photo Courtesy of Leslie McBain)

It was just too easy.

Jordan went to detox, but without ongoing support, he relapsed after just a few months.

In February 2014, at just 25-years-old, Jordan overdosed with a lethal combination of drugs in his system.

READ ALSO: Just half of overdose witnesses on Vancouver Island call 911: study

McBain was immobilized by grief for a year. But then something snapped in her.

“It’s so horrible that once you realize what a complete devastating tragedy it is and you know it could be prevented … you don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

Moms Stop the Harm was formed when she met other mothers suffering through similar loss. The organization has since been hard at work lobbying for evidence-based drug policies, safe supply of life-saving replacement drugs and the decriminalization of personal possession of illicit substances.

“Our primary goal [is] to advocate for better and more compassionate drug policies – policies that would keep drug users alive,” McBain said. “We’re fighting a war on the war on drugs.”

While Canada recently enacted a Good Samaritan law – intended to encourage witnesses to call 911 during an overdose by protecting them from drug-related arrests – McBain said there is a still a crime-focused approach and it’s doing more harm than good.

RELATED: ‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

“If we don’t legalize and regulate and decriminalize these drugs, we’re gonna end up right where we are now,” she said. “We’re gonna have toxic product, we’re going to have people being arrested, people being homeless … if everything was on the table in a regulated, safe way … it would greatly impact the number of deaths and greatly improve people’s ability to find treatment when they need it.”

So McBain asks: What if addicts were rehabilitated, rather than punished?

“Let’s help people, let’s give them what they need so the cops don’t have to respond to all these things,” she said. “Let’s treat them with compassion.”

This article is part six of a six-part special report on Greater Victoria’s opioid crisis. Find more at vicnews.com. For resources in Greater Victoria, find Black Press Media’s Overdose Prevention Guide online or pick up a hardcopy at our Victoria office, 818 Broughton St.



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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