Mothers across North America unite for #ListenToMom campaign calling for an end to the war on drugs

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      A group of mothers is working together across Canada, the United States, and Mexico to change how all three nations respond to addiction.

      Listen to Mom” is the name of a campaign they’ve launched ahead of Mother’s Day, which is this Sunday, May 13.

      “Mothers are losing children to mass incarceration, drug war violence and accidental overdose across borders, due to the failed global war on drugs,” reads a media release announcing the initiative. “We are urging people to listen to our stories and to understand the need for a compassionate and tolerant approach to drug use and substance use disorders.”

      Canadians are represented in the campaign by Moms Stop the Harm, which has members in Vancouver and across B.C. and the country. In the United States, they’re working with Moms United to End the War on Drugs and in Mexico, they’ve partnered with Red de Enlaces Nacionales.

      “In honor of Mother’s Day, we propose 8 actions that will produce positive outcomes in saving the lives and liberties of our children,” the release continues.

      Kathy Wagner is a member of Moms Stop the Harm’s Vancouver chapter. In a telephone interview, she recounted how she connected with the group after her son, Tristan Kroeker, died last August after he ingested cocaine that was adulterated with the synthetic-opioid fentanyl.

      Wagner told the Straight the first thing that all three groups are asking for is for an end to the war on drugs. She said that means that the governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico must drop criminal penalties for the personal possession of illicit narcotics.

      “The thing with criminalization is that it adds so much additional trauma,” Wagner explained. “Struggling with an addiction is a traumatic thing in and of itself. It’s often rooted in trauma before that, but even if it isn’t, just experiencing that lifestyle can be quite traumatic. And then prison and being criminalized for it, it only adds to that.

      She argued that only after drugs are decriminalized can addiction truly be treated as a health-care issue.

      “If we were paying attention to our kids and paying attention to the people who are struggling, and treating them with the compassion that they deserve based on the fact that it [addiction] is a mental-health issue rather than a criminal issue, then we’d actually solve some of their problems rather than making them worse, which is all that criminalization does,” Wagner said.

      Last year there were 1,446 illicit-drug overdose deaths in B.C., up from 993 in 2016 and 520 the year before that. In the United States, there were an estimated 64,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2016, up from about 52,000 in 2015.

      In addition to a cessation of the war on drugs, the three groups are asking that governments improve coordination on service provision across their local, state, and federal levels, and asking that citizens “reject tough love and the war on drugs, which is a war on our loved ones”.

      Listen to Mom

      A complete list of the partnerships’ eight calls to action is available at the “Listen to Mom” campaign website.

      Leslie McBain is a Moms Stop the Harm member based on Pender Island and a family-engagement lead for the B.C. Centre on Substance Use. In an interview, she recounted how she first connected with Moms United to End the War on Drugs and Red de Enlaces Nacionales at a United Nations meeting that was held in in New York City in April 2016.

      “We thought, ‘This makes sense, because we’re doing the same thing on opposite sides of the border,’ ” McBain said. “We’ve realized that this collaboration makes us stronger.”