Winnipeg mother fears ‘lethal concoction’ of street drugs amid pandemic led to daughter’s death

By | August 1, 2020

A Winnipeg mother who recently lost her daughter to a suspected overdose fears the toxicity of the drug supply currently on the streets due to the pandemic led to her daughter’s death. 

Corinne Siddle’s daughter Stephanie, 33, died in her Winnipeg apartment on June 16 of a suspected overdose.

“You can never prepare yourself for that moment,” Siddle said. “You can never prepare for the moment where they tell you your child is not with us anymore.”

For years, the bright, soft-spoken, 33-year-old lived with mental illness and an addiction to crystal meth. 

In an interview with CBC News in 2019, Stephanie spoke about her introduction to the drug at a sober-living facility in Winnipeg. 

The autopsy results confirming the cause of Stephanie’s death will not be available for several months, but Siddle said the family was told Stephanie likely died of an overdose.

Stephanie Siddle, 33, is remembered by her family as an intelligent and loving daughter, sister, aunt and friend. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Siddle said she was told by an ex-boyfriend of Stephanie’s that her daughter had begun using fentanyl and morphine. 

“She never shared that with us, of course. And I’m thinking, as a mom, that there might have been fentanyl [involved], because she had used IV drugs before and stayed alive, and this time it took her life,” Siddle said. 

Drug supply more toxic

Since the pandemic began, first responders in Winnipeg and across Canada have seen a surge in overdoses.

Front-line workers say the supply of street drugs seems to be far more toxic.

Winnipeg paramedics are increasingly having to administer multiple doses of naloxone, the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug, to some patients, which was not the case just a few years ago. 

 “That really speaks to the lethality of these drugs that we’re seeing.” Cory Guest, a paramedic public education co-ordinator for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, told CBC News earlier this month.

Police and other front-line workers say part of reason for the surge of overdoses in Winnipeg is that border closures have disrupted the supply of methamphetamine in the province and nationwide.

It’s made it harder for cartels to obtain the ingredients to make certain drugs, so products are being cut with all kinds of substances, including fentanyl, police say.

‘These deaths are preventable’

Guy Felicella, a peer clinical advisor for the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use said drug toxicity is up in B.C. and across the country.

“Even here we’re using six to seven vials of Narcan [the nasal spray form of naloxone] on one person,” he said. “It’s just a really lethal concoction of drugs that exist on the street right now.”

June was the deadliest month for overdoses in B.C.’s history, according to that province’s coroners service. 

It’s not known how many people have died of drug poisoning in Manitoba. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said that information will not be available until the fall.

Felicella said the stress of the pandemic and reduced access to various supports and services is also increasing the vulnerability of those using substances.

One way to save lives, he said, is to treat this as a health issue and implement robust harm reduction strategies, including safe consumption sites and a safer supply of drugs, as B.C. has done.

“Winnipeg will continue to see people die if they don’t implement them,” he said. “These deaths are preventable.”

He said forcing people to hide and use unregulated drugs alone only inflicts more trauma on those with addictions.

Advocates in Manitoba have long been pushing for the decriminalization of illicit drugs for personal use, providing safe consumption sites, a safer supply of all drugs and changing the legal classification of naloxone so it’s more accessible.

Last week, a spokesperson for the premier’s office said Manitoba Health is looking at changing naloxone from a Schedule 2 drug — which can only be distributed by a licensed pharmacy — to an unscheduled drug.

The province also announced in June it would spend $200,000 to double the number of naloxone take-home kits in the province.

“Our government is committed to combating the illicit drug trade and going after the drug dealers who are victimizing Manitobans,” the spokesperson said in an email, adding decriminalizing illicit drugs would require changes to federal legislation.

“Our Safer Streets, Safer Lives plan focuses on convicting these dealers to stop them from harming our communities, while also making substantial investments to help those suffering from addiction.”

The Manitoba government has rejected calls for safe consumption sites in recent years.

‘The help just wasn’t out there’: mother

Siddle said she hopes sharing her daughter’s story will shine light on the ongoing overdose crisis. She also wants to underscore the need for better mental health supports in Manitoba.

Stephanie lived with borderline personality disorder and borderline-schizophrenia, which appeared when she was in her late teens, her mother said.

“We started searching early for help for Stephanie, but the help just wasn’t out there,” she said.

Over the years, Stephanie was in and out therapy programs and emergency rooms, at times being discharged from hospital within hours of suicide attempts, she previously told CBC News. 

Siddle said her daughter turned to drugs as a means to cope with the “demons” Stephanie described as constantly fighting in her head. 

“They need to get to this before the people with mental illness turn to addiction,” she said. 

She said Stephanie, who graduated with a honours degree in psychology from the University of Manitoba in 2010, was smart, deeply kind and fought a difficult battle for many years.

“We have to figure out how to live the rest of our lives without her,” Siddle said. “She was such a powerful force and such an incredible daughter.”

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