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Donna May, whose daughter died in August, 2012 at age 35 is seen at her home in Mississauga, Ontario Friday January 29, 2016.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Nearly four years after her daughter died of an opioid overdose, Donna May will share her story of loss and learning at the United Nations.

Ms. May's daughter Jac, 35, died on Aug. 21, 2012, after overdosing on pain medication prescribed to help her cope with a flesh-eating disease she'd contracted after years of addiction and life on the streets.

"From the time she passed away until [now], all I've done is advocate for drug policy reform and to have other people receive the education I was given so they don't face the situation the same way I did. And that's my daughter's legacy," Ms. May said in an interview from Mississauga.

Ms. May and three other mothers whose children lost their lives to drugs have been invited by the Canadian government to attend a three-day United Nations session that begins Tuesday aimed at addressing the world's drug problem. Ms. May is slated to speak at a side event on the final day of the conference.

Other groups from around the world are expected to travel to New York to ask that the UN and governments end the war on drugs.

Last year, the women helped found the group Mothers United and Mandated to Saving the Lives of Drug Users, or mumsDU for short.

It advocates for harm reduction and drug-policy reform, and has since expanded to include about 400 parents of children whose deaths are in some way linked to drugs.

"There are too many victims to the war on drugs," Ms. May said.

"And it's not just the victim that you see. We are the victims, [too]."

Fellow co-founder Jennifer Woodside of Vancouver lost her 21-year-old son Dylan Woodside two years ago after he took oxycodone laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. He was one of the earliest to die in a series of fentanyl-linked deaths that is still claiming lives across Canada.

"This is a big epidemic. … These are everyday people with everyday stories," Ms. Woodside said. "I think we've got our head in the sand if you think it can't affect you."

Her personal goal for the coming UN session is to give her son a voice and to make sure he didn't die in vain, she said.

MumsDU has made inroads in its advocacy, successfully lobbying the government to make the overdose-reversal medication naloxone available without a prescription.

Leslie McBain will travel from her home on Pender Island, B.C., to New York on behalf of the group. She would like to see international drug policy move away from a punitive approach and toward a system that places more emphasis on health and social care.

A successful outcome from the UN meeting would be a clear declaration that the war on drugs has failed, Ms. McBain said, pointing to Portugal and its decriminalized approach to drug control as a model to emulate.

Her son, Jordan Miller, died of an oxycodone overdose in Victoria in early 2014.

"The war on drugs has been a war on our families," said Lorna Thomas, another mumsDU co-founder from Edmonton.

"The starting point for it, that we were going to punish people out of using drugs has failed. People will continue to use drugs and we need to acknowledge that reality and keep people safe."

One consequence of the recent spate of fentanyl-related overdoses is the changing dialogue around addiction and drug abuse, given the sheer number of deaths linked to the illicit substance, Ms. Thomas said.

She pointed to the cost of convicting and imprisoning people, noting that money could be spent on harm-reduction strategies instead.

"There has been a lot of stigma and judgment around people who use drugs," Ms. Thomas said.

"If you judge people you have no time to love them. We need to stop with the stigma and judgment and open our hearts and help people to make better choices."