Alberta MLA mourning daughters death slams Jason Kenney over safe injection sites

Alberta MLA mourning daughter\s death slams Jason Kenney over safe injection sites
Alberta MLA mourning daughter\s death slams Jason Kenney over safe injection sites
MLA Debbie Jabbour says she tried to get her daughter help with her addiction, but found treatment options in her community were limited. (CBC)

Debbie Jabbour has no doubt that safe drug consumption sites would have saved her daughter.

“It would have protected her, kept her healthy, and ultimately she wouldnt have died alone,” Jabbour said in an interview with CBC Edmontons Radio Active.

“You need a lot of help and support to break free of that cycle. That needs to be our ultimate goal but, in the meantime, you cant get people to help if theyre dead.”

The NDP MLA for Peace River is going public with her story after United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney blasted safe injection sites as places that enabled addicts to “inject poison.”

The comments made her angry, Jabbour said, and compelled her come forward.

“I was angry and hurt, not just on behalf of myself but all the Alberta families that have been going through horrible things with this current crisis,” she said.

“It just felt like he was really dismissing any person with an addiction as someone not worthy of being saved.”

Amaya Benavides, 33, died of a drug overdose on July 18, 2017. (Amaya Benavides/Facebook)

Jabbour said her daughter, Amaya Benavides, fell into her addiction slowly. After years struggling to manage  depression, she began to self medicate with illicit drugs.

The family tried to get her help, Jabbour said, but treatment options in the community were limited.

“It became more and more of an addiction and became harder and harder to beat,” Jabbour said.

“And she tried. She would get clean for a time period but fall back into it. Last year she got into some very heavy stuff and it became harder and harder to break free and ultimately she overdosed.”

Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a long-term solution to the problem. – Jason Kenney

Kenney told the Lethbridge Herald last week that he was opposed to safe injection sites, and would halt their expansion across the province if he were elected premier.

When publicly rebuked for his comments, Kenney wrote a long post on his official Facebook page, doubling down on his position. 

“Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a long-term solution to the problem,” he wrote. “Enabling someone to commit slow-motion suicide — to throw their life away — is not compassion.”

She will be introducing a private members bill this fall to provide more mental health supports for addicts.

In the meantime, she wants Kenney to understand addicts are real people who deserve help and compassion.

“Theyre not this invisible person who made a bad choice and now has to live with it. They are real people with people that love them and want them to stay alive.

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Amaya Benavides, 33, was the daughter of Alberta MLA Debbie Jabbour. She died of a drug overdose on July 18, 2017.

The last conversation Debbie Jabbour had with her daughter was about entering a drug treatment program. 

A few days later, 33-year-old Amaya Benavides overdosed. She died on July 18, 2017. 

Jabbour, NDP MLA for Peace River, is going public with her daughters story in the hope she can improve conversations around drug treatment. 

"For me, its the best way I can honour her," she said in an interview Monday. 

Benavides struggled with depression for years. Her spiral into addiction began through using drugs to self-medicate. It was a gradual process, but Jabbour said her daughter — a talented singer who loved cats and always helped out those less fortunate — desperately wanted to get clean.

Jabbour was compelled to share her daughters death after United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney told the Lethbridge Herald last week he was opposed to safe consumption sites, and wouldnt expand them across the province if elected premier. 

He followed up his comments in a Facebook post: "Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a long-term solution to the problem."

"Enabling someone to commit slow motion suicide — to throw their life away — is not compassion," he wrote, calling for stricter rules and border controls and cracking down on drug dealers. Those comments hurt Jabbour. Then they made her angry.

"He depersonalized anybody with an addiction and labelled them as this horrible person who was bent on doing this awful behaviour," she said. 

Kenneys attitude is all-too prevalent, Jabbour said — misunderstanding addiction or, worse, not bothering to try to learn about it.

She is convinced her daughter would have used a safe consumption site, and said Kenneys opposition to them makes no sense.

"It saves a lot of money. It reduces crime. There are so many benefits. It’s common sense," she said.

Kenney was in British Columbia on Monday and not available for an interview. 

This legislative session, Jabbour will introduce a private members bill focusing on access to drug treatment and mental health supports. She is still nailing down the details, but said the system was neglected for so long, it cant be fixed overnight.

In the meantime, she wants Kenney to understand that everyone with an addiction is a person, a human being, with somebody who loves them.

"Theres somebody who wants them to be alive and healthy, and the vast majority also want to be alive and healthy. They don’t want to be addicted."

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