On June 6th, 2017 after a battle with substance use disorder, Tanner Steffler was sadly poisoned by a drug overdose at the young age of 19. Tanner’s disorder is not what defined him, rather, he was a handsome teenager, an academic student and full of life and potential. He had a great sense of humour, was a talented musician, enjoyed being with his peers, had a soft spot for his loveable bulldog and had college acceptances to fulfill his career goal of an X-ray technician. Tanner grew up in a good home, was raised with strong values, love and kindness by his caring and supportive parents, John and Heather Steffler. He also had two younger sisters who are well adjusted and healthy. Tanner was remarkably honest and shared his struggle with those he knew loved and cared about him. In many ways, Tanner was a typical teen, and could at a first glance, be anyone’s child. His story solidifies for us, that addiction and mental health can impact anyone’s child, no matter their colour, creed, income or status.
In Huron County, access to mental health and addiction resources for youth are limited at best. Throughout Tanner’s struggle with substance use disorder we know that he tried desperately to access support that would help him overcome his illness. Tanner didn’t want to be an addict; he wanted treatment and he wanted to be well. Despite their best efforts, Tanner and his family could not access services that would support his treatment and full recovery in a timely manner. The medical system and outpatient services did not help Tanner, the school could not and the justice system does not. The lack of appropriate services for Tanner and other youth like him is appalling. In the end, the “system” failed Tanner and it cost him his life. Unfortunately, this is a story we hear far too often; youth do not have adequate access to mental health and addiction services in Huron County.
After Tanner’s death, others reached out to John and Heather to share their stories of struggle. All stories shared a common theme; our youth deserve better services. Repeatedly, stories told of the lack of immediate access to services, short term treatment centres with no follow-up care, youth being shuffled from one provider to another, long waitlists and doors being closed repeatedly. Despite their intense grief, John and Heather created Tanner Steffler Foundation in August 2017, and are committed to saving the lives of Huron County youth so that others don’t have to suffer like Tanner and his family.
The focus of the foundation is to enhance and improve the Mental Health and Addiction resources and support networks that are in place for youth between the ages of 12-24 within Huron County. Youth Mental Health and Addiction is a broad area of concern for the entire healthcare, law and education partners and is an identified area of need within our community.