The debate over whether Nova Scotia should join a class-action suit against opioid manufacturers took a deeply emotional turn in the provincial legislature in Halifax this week as MLAs shared their personal experiences with the public.
“I’m the mother who would get up in the middle of the night, 4 a.m., rainstorms, snow storms, get in my car by myself, driving dirt roads, driving to houses where I thought [my daughter] might be, wondering when I went around the turn, what was I going to find?” said Kim Masland, minister of public works.
“There was not a night that went by that I didn’t think, ‘this is probably going to be the night that I’m going to lose her,'” she said Wednesday as fellow MLAs dabbed away tears.
The comments were part of final debate on amendments to the Opioid Damages and Health-care Costs Recovery Act introduced by Health Minister Michelle Thompson last month. The bill was unanimously approved by MLAs.
While she detailed her daughter’s struggles with opioid addiction, Masland said she’ll always remember the turning point in her daughter’s recovery journey; the night Masland laid with her on her daughter’s bedroom floor while she withdrew from the drugs.
“I will never forget that night watching her body literally almost convulsing as [these] unbelievable, powerful drugs were coming out of her system,” Masland said, adding that she was proud of her daughter for seeking out help.
Eventually, she said, her daughter received support from the opioid recovery program at Queens General Hospital in Liverpool, N.S.
Masland thanked Thompson for introducing the bill and ended her time by saying, “I echo the comments of my colleague across. I hope they all burn in hell.”
John White, the MLA for Glace Bay-Dominion on Cape Breton Island, choked up as he spoke about his personal addiction to opioids, which began when he was prescribed the drugs following a car accident in 2005. White said until that point, he felt he’d avoided some of the impacts drugs had in his community, though he also said some of his friends died as a result of their own clashes with substance abuse.
“At one point I was taking 10 or so Percocets a day. Probably 15 Tylenol 3s. I was in my own world,” White said. “[When] I rubbed my face, [it] felt like somebody else’s face. Nothing around me mattered to me.”
After seven years of using the pain medication and with ongoing support from his wife, White said he asked his doctor to stop prescribing them.
Then he went through the withdrawal process.
“I remember laying in bed in a fetal position and I didn’t know if I was going to see the morning,” he said.
The experience changed him, he added, which is why he felt the passing of the bill was crucial.
“We walked in here today different than we are walking out tonight,” White said, “We are different because we share, because we realize we’re all human and this piece of legislation we’re passing is a game changer.”
As well, Eastern Shore MLA Kent Smith spoke about his sister, who had passed away last year.
“I told the House that she passed away from Crohn’s disease and chronic illness, which is true,” Smith said, “But the crux of the issue, and the real story behind her death, was years and years of opioid addiction.
“She lost everything that she had in life. She lost her friends. She lost family. She lost everything, and ultimately, it took her life.”
Like Masland and White, Smith said he was proud of the legislation that had been put forward and hopes it would lead to other families getting restitution.
Hold companies accountable
Thompson said the changes to the bill were being made “so that we can hold opioid companies accountable for the impacts and damages caused by their actions.”
“With these amendments, we can try to recover past and future health care costs due to opioid-related diseases, injuries, and illnesses,” she added.