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Fentanyl: Calgary family launches organization to change face of addictions

Spouse of man who died from a fentanyl overdose disappointed province didn’t call state of emergency

Jessica Holtsbaum (left) and Rosalind Davis say they lost their loved one, Nathan Huggins-Rosenthal, to fentanyl. They have launched a not-for profit to push for political change in Alberta’s addictions crisis.

Jeremy Simes / For Metro

Jessica Holtsbaum (left) and Rosalind Davis say they lost their loved one, Nathan Huggins-Rosenthal, to fentanyl. They have launched a not-for profit to push for political change in Alberta’s addictions crisis.

Rosalind Davis and her spouse Nathan Huggins-Rosenthal planned to start a family, but she believes his addiction to fentanyl became the cause of his death. 

Davis was dismayed to learn last week that the government won’t enact a public health state of emergency over the fentanyl crisis, after Alberta Liberal leader Dr. David Swann expressed the need for an emergency. 

“I think we’re really disappointed because it speaks volumes of ignorance to the lack of education around drugs and addictions issues,” said Davis, who has launched the Alberta Foundation of Changing the Face of Addiction, a not-for profit that aims to educate Albertans on drugs and addictions issues, with Nathan’s sister, Jessica Holtsbaum. 

“We want to push for political change,” she said. “We want to inform people of how if we change these things, it can benefit all of society.”

Nathan Huggins-Rosenthal.

Submitted

Nathan Huggins-Rosenthal.

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said an public health emergency over the addictions crisis is unwarranted as it gives government “extraordinary powers” that are unnecessary, and would be more effective if there was an outbreak of a highly communicable disease. 

From January 1 to June 30 of this year, there were 153 people in Alberta who died from apparent drug overdoses related to fentanyl, a 10 per cent increase from 139 deaths that were reported during January to June of 2015. 

Nathan died in February and Davis continues to wait for his cause of death report from the coroner’s office. He was a witty and charming stockbroker with a Master in Business Administration, Davis said.

“At first we thought the problem was manageable: just don’t do drugs,” she said. “This was the conventional thinking.”

Davis quickly learned his addiction was more complex, but said Nathan had to wait four months before being admitted to a treatment program.

“After that four months, he wasn’t the man I recognized anymore,” she said, adding he overdosed weeks later after returning from the Claresholm Centre for Mental Health and Addictions.

“Because of shame, he told everyone it was pneumonia, and we believed him because we believed treatment programs worked,” she said. “Two-and-a-half months later, he was dead.”

She said Nathan’s story inspired her to launch the foundation.

“No one chooses to be an addict,” she said. “But believing addiction is a choice absolves society of any responsibility. When we shame people of addictions, we push them into the shadows.

“Once we became educated ourselves, I think the awareness of how little society knows or understands addictions became so obvious to us.”

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