The AUPE family is mourning this week after the senseless and tragic death of someone close.
Damien McMaster, son of long-time AUPE member and activist Andrea Waywanko, died last week. While the official cause of death may be put down as a drug overdose, the real cause was a failure of the health-care system to treat mental illness and addiction.
Unfortunately, as the UCP government continues its ideological drive to push people suffering from the illness of addiction and from mental-health issues onto the streets rather than offering them safety and support, many more Albertans are enduring this kind of tragedy.
Figures released by the government last week show that 449 people died from opioid poisoning in the first six months of 2020, an average of 2.5 deaths per day. Of those, 301 came in the second quarter, showing that the opioid crisis is getting worse not better.
We know the COVID-19 pandemic is a health-care crisis and rightly treat it as such. It has claimed 265 lives so far.
Meanwhile, the opioid crisis gets worse as the government puts the squeeze on safe-consumption sites that were clearly saving lives.
The report says that from April to June, there were 40,775 visits to supervised consumption site in the province. This compares to 114,430 visits to these sites in the previous quarter.
As the number of visits to safe-consumption sites has fallen by about two-thirds, the number of deaths has increased by two-thirds.
Meanwhile, the UCP government has slashed the overall affordable housing budget for capital projects in half, from $1.2 billion to $612 million for the next four years. According to the Calgary Homeless Foundation, it costs about $35,000 annually to provide supportive housing per person while it costs taxpayers about $95,000 a year to cover emergency services for one individual living rough.
Housing First initiatives, which have been all but abandoned by this government, recognize that people are better able to move forward with their lives if they are first housed. This is as true for people experiencing homelessness and those with mental health and addictions issues as it is for anyone.
Damien made some poor choices in his life and it is important that he and others who succumb to their addictions not be stripped of their agency. At the same time, we can recognize that we are increasingly becoming a society that actively chooses to offer certain people choices that range from very poor to deadly.
Damien was a prize-winning student. There were times when he could be kind, loving and supporting. He struggled with mental-issues for many years and often sought help. Too often, that help was not there in a system starved of resources.
He leaves behind his two sons, his parents, his sister and nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts.
Now he has gone, but his legacy lives on, not only with his children and in the memories of family and friends who love him, but through his final act.
As his obituary says: “Damien has generously donated to the Human Organ Procurement and Exchange Program (HOPE) so that the most good can come from this tragic situation.”
Damien is helping others, even though help was not always there when he needed it. Please consider performing a random act of kindness in memory of Damien and the hundreds of Albertans lost to the opioid and mental health crisis.