A local politician is sharing her story in the hopes of reducing the stigma around addiction. Peace River MLA Debbie Jabbour lost her daughter Amaya Benavides last year, and decided to go public after UCP leader Jason Kenney criticized safe consumption sites.
“There’s that idea that these individuals have made a choice and that it’s just a simple matter of telling them to make a different choice,” says Jabbour. “I think it’s important that people start to see that people with addictions are our family members, they’re our friends, they’re our neighbours, they’re the people that we work with.”
Like many drug addicts, Jabbour says her daughter’s drug use started gradually as a way to cope with her depression. The family reportedly struggled to find her help with her mental health issues, spending hours waiting in emergency rooms after suicide attempts, and feeling traumatized by police officers who accompanied mobile mental health workers.
“She had incredible potential and she really, really wanted to get well,” Jabbour says. “She didn’t want to be addicted; that was always top of her mind, even just in the last year of her life there was a period as long as three months where she felt that she was clean, but it just didn’t last.”
Benevides died on July 18, 2017 at the age of 33.
The NDP government launched a mental health review soon after it was elected in 2015, and Jabbour feels things have been moved forward since then. Measures have included expanded access to naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and the approval of safe consumption sites.
The throne speech earlier this month also mentioned more public treatment options, more harm reduction services and more public education, along with expanded access to supervised consumption services. However, Jabbour admits the province would have liked to have been able to start those efforts earlier.
“We were hit with a crisis and the crisis has been building. The previous government did not do enough for mental health supports, so the crisis has been coming and now it’s upon us. We had to immediately respond to the crisis when it would have been much nicer to just put in treatment options.”
In his interview with the Lethbridge Herald, Kenney said he would oppose expanding safe consumption sites across the province if elected premier, saying they enable addicts to “inject poison into their bodies.” Jabbour wants to change attitudes like that and move towards a world where addiction is seen as a disease.