Regina woman who lost mom to opioid overdose calls for better addictions treatment, more compassion

·5 min read

Katrina Long knows the pain of losing a loved one to opioids. Her 54-year-old mother, Josephine Mavis Isaac, died from a fentanyl overdose.

"I hold a lot of grief and guilt about my mom's passing," Long said, fighting off tears.

"I think I could have done more if I had done something differently."

Long said her mother dealt with an alcohol addiction for years, but that escalated to harder drugs after her mom started dating a new man.

Long said her mom broke her arm about three years ago and tried her boyfriend's prescription pain medication. She then became addicted to hydromorphone — an opioid used to treat severe pain — and eventually became an intravenous drug user.

Long, who has two young kids, said things quickly went downhill after that, especially when the pandemic started.

She said her mom ended up getting a total of $6,000 in COVID-19 financial assistance that she didn't qualify for and it basically went to drugs.

She died from an overdose within three months.

Hope instantly ripped away

Long said she deals with anxiety, which was magnified by her mom's addiction and overdose.

"I think the hardest thing, when you're dealing with somebody who is dealing with addiction, is that in the back of your mind you always have hope that they'll get better. So, when they pass, that hope is instantly ripped away," she said.

Long said dealing with the aftermath has also taken a toll on her and her family.

"We weren't able to be with [mom] because of COVID, so I wanted to go to the hospital because she was being taken for an autopsy — but we weren't able to see her," she said.

It ended up taking about two weeks until she could see her mom, because of pandemic restrictions.

"The biggest challenge, and what we were scared of, was that we weren't going to be able to say goodbye like we had wanted to," she said.

Submitted by Katrina Long
Submitted by Katrina Long

Then there was the daunting task of planning an unexpected funeral during a pandemic, along with going through her mom's house — the place where she died.

Long said she had help from her sisters and aunt, but there are many people who aren't as fortunate.

"We're really lucky that we have each other as a support system because without them it would be definitely really hard, she said.

4 suspected overdose deaths in 1 day

Four men — all in their thirties — died from suspected drug overdoses in Regina on Monday.

They were all found in different places at different times. Investigators don't think they're connected, police say, aside from fentanyl being believed to be involved in each case.

"My heart breaks for the families because I know what they're going to be going through," said Long.

"They're most likely going to feel that they were cheated on their goodbye to their loved ones."

The names of the men have not been made public, but Long has a message to their families, along with every other family who has lost a loved one to an overdose.

"Stick close with your family, get help, go talk to somebody if you need to talk to somebody, because all of the emotions that are going to come up can be a lot for somebody to handle," she said.

"Don't be scared to ask for help and don't do everything by yourself. Reach out to the people [who] are offering to help because they're going to be your biggest supporters."

Long also has advice for people with loved ones who are struggling with addiction.

"Reach out to them, try to help them, talk to them as much as you can," she said.

"It has to be the person who wants to make the change, but you can always make sure they know that you love them and just be as supportive as you can."

Overdoses more than quadruple in 2020

There have been 93 apparent drug overdose deaths in Regina this year — 16 of which happened in November — compared to 21 in all of 2019.

"I think the numbers obviously reflect that the province has a problem and that the resources that are available aren't enough," said Long.

She said she wants to see more supervised consumption sites in the province. The only one is currently in Saskatoon, but it does not receive government funding.

Long said she also wants to see a restructuring of provincial rehab facilities and detox programs.

She said her mom went to detox and rehab on several occasions, but the treatment never stuck. Long said there was almost always a wait time to get her mom help.

"When an addict is ready for help, they need help now," she said.

"They don't need help in 48 hours, or a week, because by that time they most likely went back to using because detoxing is scary."

She also wants more compassion not just from the government, but from the community as well.

"My mom wasn't just a statistic. She was a person and she had tons of people that loved her," she said, noting that a lot of people with addictions are struggling with mental illness or trauma.

"People just need to be more understanding of people's circumstances and addiction can happen to anybody. It could be your son or daughter, mom or dad, who are dealing with this and try to put yourself in the family's shoes."

Province says it is 'taking action'

In an emailed statement, the province said it's "taking action to address opioid-related overdoses and deaths."

The budget announced in June includes about $1.55 million to establish a new crystal meth treatment facility in Estevan, although the centre may treat people for other addictions as well, according to the statement.

The province is also spending more than $1.7 million to fund 28 new detox beds in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, North Battleford and "other potential locations."

More than $800,000 is going toward hiring addiction workers in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

The province has also implemented programs aimed at helping people with addictions, like Take Home Naloxone —which has already distributed more than 5,400 kits so far the year, the statement says — along with Rapid Access Addictions Medicine program, Mental Health and Addiction Services and HealthLine 811.