Kat Wahamaa with pictures of her son Joseph Taylor-Wahamaa, 25, who died of a fentanyl overdose last August. She is working to bring a resiliency conference to Maple Ridge. (NEWS files)

Drug user groups part of community resilience conversation

Women who lost son to overdose organizing conference in Maple Ridge

A woman who lost her son to an overdose recently attended a forum in Abbotsford, and is planning to bring a similar event to Maple Ridge.

Kat Wahamaa attended Abbotsford’s day-long Drug User Groups and Community Resilience Conference on Dec. 6. She said that city shares a lot in common with Maple Ridge, in that both are communities of about 100,000 where there are divisions about how to deal with the homeless population.

“The more dialogue we can have about the whole fentanyl poisoning issue, and addiction, and the resulting homelessness, the better,” said Wahamaa.

“I am looking for ways in which we can come together to deal with this issue.”

Wahamaa considers the whole opioid overdose epidemic an issue of “fentanyl poisoning,” because this relatively new drug is deadly, and is being used by many drug users without their knowledge.

“It’s a huge trauma happening to the whole province – and the whole world.”

Her own son Joseph, who had been addicted to Oxycontin, died at the age of 25 after taking a lethal dose of fentanyl. He had been in recovery, and had been on methadone, and relapsed.

She is doing a masters of education in art and social change, has been a Maple Ridge artist in residence, and is a social activist and a member of the Raging Grannies.

“I thought it was a very helpful discussion,” she said of the Abbotsford conference. “Recognizing how important drug user groups as partners in helping to develop solutions is vital.”

It is critical to talk to communicate with drug users, and people with lived experience, and take an evidence-based approach to addiction.

“We have a lack of people really wanting to delve into what works best,” she said.“We’re had a very failed drug policy for 100 years. Blame, shame and incarceration are not the way to deal with this.”

Groups including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the BC/Yukon Associations of Drug War Survivors attended the Abbotsford conference.

Wahamaa also heard from other parents and family members who had lost loved ones, who attended alongside officials from Fraser Health, the BC Centre for Disease Control, the Ministry of Public Safety, the criminology department from the University of the Fraser Valley and “a wide-ranging group of organizations.”

She wants people to be informed as Maple Ridge wrestles with issues like how to help its homeless population, and where to put modular housing for the residents of Anita Place Tent City.

“So much of our resistance is fear of recognizing them as humans, just like the rest of us,” she said.

She said addicts are not “failed people” who are continually making a choice to do drugs.

“It’s a complex issue, and it looks like they are making choices, but they are not,” she said. It’s not a happy feeling, they’re just doing something that makes them feel like they’re not dying.”

“It would take so little to do so much to assist this problem.”

Wahamaa said she is feeling strong enough to help address addiction. She is publicly involved in the issue, and has read books like “The Unbroken Brain.” She wants to make sure people know the facts – facts she didn’t have when her son was in crisis.

“There’s so much information that I wish I had…”

Wahamaa will be talking with the Abbotsford event organizers, and then take the next steps toward a similar conference in her hometown.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maple Ridge Mounties hope someone recognizes this vandal

At least 25 vehicles were damaged overnight Saturday to Sunday in a north Maple Ridge neighbourhood

Pitt Meadows film premiere offers hope to people with learning disabilities

In Normal Isn’t Real four subjects who have learning disabilities and ADHD, share their success stories

Marching for those who’ve disappeared

Fifth annual event in Memorial Peace Park

Letter: Other cities have declared climate emergencies

Maple Ridge should do what’s right for our planet

Elementary students are hoping the city will recognize Real Acts of Caring week

Pitt Meadows students participate in Real Acts of Caring week

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The protests have manifested themselves as blockades on different rail lines across the country

VIDEO: Giants win 10th straight on home ice in Langley

Family Day was about spending time with the fans and dazzling them with a 3-2 victory over Seattle

Canucks acquire forward Tyler Toffoli from Kings in push for playoffs

Vancouver sends Schaller, Madden, pick to L.A.

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

Wet’suwet’en and B.C. government have been talking Aboriginal title for a year

Coastal GasLink says it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route

Trudeau tightlipped on plan to end protests ‘quickly and peacefully’

The prime minister, who cancelled a two-day trip to Barbados this week to deal with the crisis at home

B.C. budget expected to stay the course as economic growth moderates

Finance minister said ICBC costs have affected budget

Canadian standards for coronavirus protection to be reviewed, health agency says

The protocols set out how health workers should protect themselves and their patients

Monday marks one-year anniversary of man missing from Langley

42-year-old B.C. man, Searl Smith, was last seen leaving Langley Memorial Hospital on Feb. 17, 2019

Most Read