South Surrey resident Maureen Kerr says watching her son struggle with substance abuse is like having her heart ripped out one inch at a time. Kerr says addiction needs to be recognized and treated as a mental health issue.

When will we treat those who suffer?

By the time an addict ‘hits bottom,’ it’s often too late, a mother says.

We are a barbaric people, some of us, full of impressive words and passionate concern about mental health and addiction recovery while doing very little about it.

Being the mother of a drug addict is like having my heart ripped out one inch at a time. It’s a raw and seeping wound that never stops bleeding, awake or asleep, whenever I see him and whenever I don’t. Not just because I’m forced to watch him die a slow and painful death in front of my eyes, but because I can do absolutely nothing about it.

I cannot gather my son in my arms and transport him to safe harbour. I cannot scoop him from the tortured hell he lives in and plunk him down somewhere opposite. He’s an adult. He has rights. This haunted, emaciated skeleton – this ghost of what he once was and still could be – has rights.

Experts tell us that addiction is a brain disorder. That repeated drug use leads to changes in the brain that undermine voluntary control. And yet we demand choices from people who are no longer capable of them.

Workers in the field know that drug addiction is a mental health issue and still our Mental Health Act does not include it. I cannot force my son into treatment. He has to make the call. He has to hit bottom. The problem is, by the time he does, he’ll be dead.

If a drowning man was too beaten, too exhausted, and too befuddled to lift his hand to yours, would you stand on the river bank and watch him drown? ADHD, severe depression and years of drug abuse cause impaired judgment and incapacity. My son suffers from it all in a “recovery house” that isn’t one, at the mercy of a landlord who exploits our most vulnerable. No food, no heat, no oven, no telephone. Alerting the authorities is pointless; the guy always wiggles out. Besides, it’s better than living under a tree. They’re addicts. Where can they go? No one else will take them.

If I played the mom card I might get him into treatment. Keeping him there is more difficult. He’s been clean before, nine months once, but didn’t find the magic bullet and no longer believes in the 12-step program.

And getting to the top of a waiting list takes courage, faith, persistence and a telephone, when the only push left in him is to search for drugs to stop the pain. Mostly he doesn’t. Mostly he’s dope sick, without drugs and without hope. He doesn’t eat, doesn’t talk, and hasn’t slept since 2012 when the mother of his child committed murder under the influence of drugs and alcohol and we lost my only grandson in the aftermath. I couldn’t help her, either. Same old story.

You can’t force an adult into treatment, blah, blah, blah. A young girl dead, the other locked up, and a small boy loses his entire birth family. Will it ever stop?

When are we going to fix this? Policy doesn’t change until large numbers demand it. Why aren’t we doing that? Why aren’t we saving our drowning people?

 

Maureen Kerr

Surrey

 

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