Families of overdose victims react to Sudbury police laying manslaughter charge in opioid death

There are varying opinions on how to deal with traffickers who sell tainted opioids.

Even people who have lost loved ones due to fatal overdoses are divided on whether traffickers should be charged with manslaughter.

On Thursday, Sudbury police announced they have charged David Leon Stefanczuk, 39, with manslaughter and trafficking. It’s in connection with an overdose death earlier this year. Sudbury police say it’s the first time they’ve laid a manslaughter charge after an overdose death.

Amanda Byrne’s brother Ryan died of an overdose in 2018. The Sudbury woman says she believes police making arrests in overdoses is part of a solution.

“I think that absolutely those people should be held accountable for what they’re knowingly distributing to our society,” she said.

But Donna May, the founder and facilitator of mumsDU, which stands for Moms United and Mandated to Saving the Lives of Drug Users says laying charges won’t address the issue.

“Health and social care is the only way to treat this successfully,” she said.

“Prohibition has never worked. It never will work. The thought of simply employing police and the judicial system to attack people who are disabled by their addiction is ludicrous.”

‘Holding people accountable’

May’s brother died of an overdose last year. She lost her daughter who was addicted to opioids in 2012. May says she tried to get her daughter help but says the services she needed weren’t available.

“I don’t think that anybody who is truly dependent on substances wants to stay that way,” she said.

“It becomes an illness. We don’t have measures in place that can help people who are at that stage.”

Byrne says she agrees more services need to be in place for those with addictions.

“When people reach out for the help that they want, they’re able to receive that help at that point in time as opposed to having to wait and more than likely relapsing before they’re admitted into a program,” she said.

“As well as holding people accountable would help our community.”

‘Stop criminalizing’ users

Police have said they’re not interested in arresting those who use drugs, rather the people selling them. But May points out that often the dealer is also a user.

“It’s not the low-level dealers that we need to be attacking and imprisoning,” she said.

“We need to be on top of this and the only way to be on top of this is to stop criminalizing people who use drugs and to start treating them with health and social care.”

So far, the province has approved 15 sites across Ontario for safe injection sites to operate. However, none of them are in northeastern Ontario. May says as a result, underground sites are up and running.

“If we can’t get the services that are needed, we’re just going to do it anyway,” she said. “I blame the government. Things that can and should be done are not being done.”

She says the government needs to step in to address the issue.

“It’s traumatizing to everyone,” she said.

“This society will never be the same. There are too many mothers who have lost a child. There are too many siblings who have lost a brother or sister.”

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