Opioid abuse takes centre stage at “Not My Kid” community forum



By Ron Giofu


The Amherstburg Police Service hosted a free community forum on opioids and adolescents with a crowd of roughly 100 turning out to gather information.

The “Not My Kid” forum was held Nov. 9 at the Libro Centre with community agencies and businesses on hand to share information and experiences.

Matt Kelly, a peer counselor at the Southshore Health Centre in Leamington, outlined his personal experiences and battles with addiction. The 34-year-old said he has spent roughly 17 years battling addiction, though he pointed out he grew up in a typical family.

Kelly said his youth was largely spent not ever feeling like he truly fit in anywhere, and described himself as “an egotist maniac with an inferiority complex.” That led to behavioral issues with his parents and peers to the point where “my parents were at a loss” and sent him to a military school.

In his second year in military school, Kelly said he suffered from abuse from an older peer and after reporting it, the solution was simply to separate the two. That planted seeds of mistrust and only compounded Kelly’s issues.

After returning to a public school, he started hanging around with those who drank and smoked and started a drug habit, including stealing from his family to support that habit. At age 16, he tried cocaine and started putting anything in his body “that could take me away from myself.”

Kelly said he was soon kicked out of his house and had difficulty staying clean despite going to treatment centres. He would also go to jail numerous times during those years.

Matt Kelly addresses the audience at the recent opioid forum in Amherstburg.

In his late teens, he fathered three children, with those children eventually being assigned to live at his parents’ home and he was not allowed on the property to see them. Kelly said he moved around to try and get a fresh start but would soon find people that helped him support his habits. He recalled living in “countless homeless shelters” and eating donuts out of dumpsters.

“I wasn’t doing the work to keep myself clean,” he said. “My life had become completely unmanageable and that’s putting it lightly.”

Kelly’s addiction problems increased as did his scrapes with the law. He would wake up in hospitals “scared of everything” and not remember being admitted. After a suicide attempt in the Southwest Detention Centre in 2015, Kelly said something finally clicked and he realized he wanted to live. He finally got the help he needed and finally bonds with people, including his children of whom he now has four.

“I’ve forgiven myself, I’ve worked out the damage I’ve done to my loved ones also,” he said. “Today, I can say that I’m OK with myself.”

Kelly said there is hope and encouraged kids to talk to others if they have issues.

“The biggest message I can give to kids is to reach out. There is help out there. Don’t wait too long. Don’t be too late,” he said.

Constables Charles Campbell and Gary Williams from Windsor police’s drug and gun squad spoke to the crowd about their experiences with Williams noting that he used to have an “us versus them” attitude about drug users. He said if luck were to swing in a different direction, maybe others would be faced with the same problems.

Amanda Allen from Crime Stoppers goes over what they do as part of the “Not My Kid” opioid open forum.

Campbell said they try and recruit informants to get drugs off the street. Common drugs found in Windsor are Percocets, Dilaudid,, Xanax, morphine and fentanyl with the drugs coming in various forms.

Williams acknowledged that people will get ahead of them. Mixing opioids with other drugs is becoming more common as it increases potency.

Amanda Allen, police co-ordinator with Crime Stoppers Windsor-Essex County, said their program works and keeps people anonymous. She said they have seen people call on their family members just so their family member can get help.

“Sometimes, family members are at wit’s end,” said Allen.

Allen urged people to take drugs back to their local pharmacy so that they stay off the street, a message emphasized by Josie Piruzza, owner of the Shoppers Drug Mart franchise in Amherstburg.

“I still accept them back just to get them off the streets,” said Piruzza.

Piruzza urged people to lock their drugs up and know how much they have.

Mental health nurse Belinda Leaman offered numerous tips for parents and guardians, including educating themselves, being aware of their child’s friends, keeping and monitoring their medications, and reinforcing positive behaviours.

Signs of opioid intoxication include constricted pupils, little or no reaction to light, droopy eyelids, sluggish responses and appearing drowsy or sleepy. A teen may be at risk if there is a loss of interest in appearance and activities, neglecting responsibilities, if there is cash or valuables missing from the home, changes in friends, poor judgment, secretive behaviour, lying, irregular schedule, excessive sleeping, an increase in snoring, constipation and/or sudden mood changes.

Sharmaine Tanario-Battagello, from Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital’s withdrawal management program, encouraged parents and guardians by saying they don’t have to take everything onto themselves and that there are numerous agencies out there to help.

“You have to educate yourself on what you’re up against,” she said.

Tanario-Battagello said people can go to professionals to get help, but noted it has to be the right help for the right person.

“It’s a community thing. It’s a family thing,” she said of addiction. “Don’t be ashamed. Just get the help you need the way you need it.”

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