KAMLOOPS — On February 27 Interior Health released yet another overdose alert for Kamloops. Six people died from illicit drug overdose over a period of ten days. Somebody’s child, sibling, spouse, or parent. It is not a matter of age, or status. That is unfortunately the message that becomes stronger with each new story on the opioid crisis front.
Someone got lost and could not find a way back. Most of us can only suppose what it’s like to have a loved one engulfed by addiction, or, God forbid, lose them to it. Like many parents of teenagers and young adults I have asked myself if that could happen to my children.
You want to say no, thinking of the many reasons why it can’t, and then you read a story about a parent who said the same at some point, and yet somehow, they found themselves unprepared and pained witnesses to the opposite. Worst of all, many parents and family members find themselves lacking options and resources when it comes to dealing with a loved one’s drug problem.
Truly, the world seems to be separated into those who have seen the problem up close and those who are wise from afar. Then, there are those in between, who are willing to learn more, listen more and understand that only when you take a close look and try to understand, you may be part of the change that needs to happen in order to prevent future drug-related deaths. Addiction is not an issue that lives at the edge of society, nor can we pretend it does.
Whether we admit it or not, stigma is still a thing when it comes to drug users. We have names that put drug-addicted people in a lower category. We argue that no money should be spent on them because they make bad choices so why would everyone foot the bill? Why have supervised injection sites, isn’t that just enabling? Why have naloxone kits available? If drugs have never affected a person or a loved one, those questions pop out and, may I say, the sense of righteousness of the unaffected can have a sharp edge.
Except that reality hits us in the face every now and then, and numbers keep increasing. In 2016, there were more than 2,800 people in Canada whose lives were claimed by illicit drug use. By December of last year, Health Canada was bracing for even grimmer numbers: up to 4,000 or more. This is a crisis indeed. If you are curious to check the numbers, the illicit drug trafficking has been increasing at a scary pace. What makes someone opt to use drugs, many ask, knowing how harmful or deadly the effects?
It could be trauma, peer pressure, or simply a stupid decision in the context of a party where no one is wiser. We are all better equipped to understand and attend to this crisis if we abstain from pointing the finger.
Which is why asking rhetorical, righteous, or judgemental questions will not do more than maintain the divide between the two groups of people: whose who have seen the threat from up close and those who think it will never come close to them or their loved ones.
What we need is to make this a conversation more pervasive than drugs can ever be. We need to destigmatize those who fall prey to drugs and instead discuss ideas on how to have facilities where someone can walk in and be attended to, no matter their status or age. We need to forge strong support networks for family members dealing with it. For our young ones, many of whom are caught in this deadly game at younger and younger ages, a constant dialogue is a must and so are centres where they can be helped sooner than later.
It is not a comfortable conversation and sometimes we may be tempted to say that posters describing illegal drug use consequences are enough (high schools will have that). I’m willing to argue that passing by them countless times you simply tune them out, no matter how shocking the images. Moreover, if the narrative on social media and among peers often glorifies or makes light of the issues of drinking and consuming drugs, or presents but the ‘coolness’ of it, we have to make the conversation about safety and the dangers of drugs a louder and more convincing.
Moms Stop The Harm (http://www.momsstoptheharm.com/) is an advocacy group of Canadian moms who have lost their children to drugs. They are fighting hard to destroy the stigma and help prevent other tragedies. Let’s make a dialogue with them and other similar groups and like-minded professionals a reality. Let’s ask how we can reinforce the mesh that will hopefully catch all or most of those who have fallen into the darkness. We need to ask fewer questions that start with ‘why’ and more that include ‘What is my part in this? How can I help?’.
Compassion is a must. So is educating ourselves about the realities of drug trade and the presence of drugs (for example, schools should be drug-free zones, but are they?) and doing all that we can to remember that we can never fault those who fall and cannot get up on their own, but instead try to understand the depth of such a crisis and the trauma that surrounds it. If nothing else, we need to remember that no one who falls into the darkness is a lesser human.