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BEPPLE – Ordinary people, not politicians, will solve the opioid crisis

EVERY ONE OF US knows at least one person who has died from a drug overdose in the last few years. A co-worker. A friend’s brother-in-law.  A son of another co-worker. A gifted author and friend. Those are some of who I know. And I know everyone else has their own losses.   Twenty-two overdose deaths in Kamloops from just January to June of this year alone.

And now, news of a 17-year-old woman who has died at a summer concert.

Sometimes it seems like there is nothing that can be done.  We have watched scores of people in our community, and thousands in our province die from overdoses. The deaths keep mounting.

There is one thing we can do. We can listen to ordinary people. People who use drugs. People who live with those who use drugs. Caregivers, cops and counsellors.

It will be ordinary people who find our solutions.

About 30 years ago, I had a friend who used drugs.  Mostly intravenous cocaine and heroin.  He didn’t use continually, but went in and out of using for about the first 10 years I knew him.

What he said helped most on getting off drugs was having a family doctor who would work with him to find solutions.

I also know that he had an extremely understanding employer. When he was using, he couldn’t work. But when he got his life back together, his employer would take him back, multiple times.

The whole time he used drugs, which was about 10 years, on and off, he had housing. Often by racking up huge credit card debts to pay the rent.

The final thing he had were friends. He and I have remained close friends to this day. As have many, many other friends who were in his circle 30 years ago. He used drugs, but he was also witty, funny, generous, and a loyal friend.

One thing he said didn’t help was the shame others put on him for using. The shame made it far, far harder to reach out for help, to keep himself safer.

He has been drug free for 20 some years now. But during those 10 years he used, there were times I wasn’t sure I would see him alive again when he went off on a bender. And he did overdose a few times. Thankfully the paramedics and doctors gave him the care he needed. Thankfully, fentanyl didn’t exist then.

At the time he used, harm reduction was not yet in practice. Harm reduction, of which needle exchange is only one small part, was just emerging in the 1980s and ’90s. AIDS was rampant, and treatments were non-existent. Clean needles were given out to help stop the spread of AIDS intravenously. There are currently 75,000 people living with AIDS in Canada. There is no vaccine or cure, but there are treatments.  There would have been far more infected if clean needles weren’t given out.

At the time my friend feared AIDS as much as overdoses. Luckily, he never contracted AIDS, but he did acquire Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a chronic disease that destroys the liver. It affects 250,000 Canadians. There is no vaccine or treatment for Hepatitis C. Harm reduction, which includes safe use of needles, is listed as one of the most important strategies to stop the spread of Hep C.

Now he is drug free. But with a chronic, untreatable, potentially deadly blood born disease.

I am deeply troubled when the mayor of Kamloops, Ken Christian, said last week on Radio NL that harm reduction had outlived its usefulness.  He wants Interior Health to change how it hands out needles to drug users. He said, “The harm reduction ideas that we had in the ’90s that were largely predicated around the control of blood borne disease, really are not stepping up in terms of the kind of changes that fentanyl places, in terms of that street affected community.”

My friend contracted Hepatitis C before harm reduction, before the access to safe needles. Since then, the instances of AIDS and Hep C have been kept in check because of needle exchanges and harm reduction.

My friend was never street affected or homeless for the 10 years he used. He was actually a highly paid software programmer who worked for a top global companies. But he used intravenous drugs before there were needle exchanges and got Hep C.

Whether there are other forms of drug use, such as pills and tablets, that need other strategies to counter, does not reduce the need for safe needles.

As I said at the beginning, it will be ordinary people who will find solutions to the opioid crisis.

It will be people like my friend, who lived with drug use for 10 years and found a way out. It will be friends and family who support those around them to make better decisions.  It will be the employers who support their employees to get counselling, and the doctors who are non-judgemental when meet their patients.

It will be teachers who tell students that ordinary people use drugs, not just the street affected.  It will be people like Caroline King and Dennis Giesbrecht, who meet people where they are at, and have created an innovative needle buy-back program. It will be the extraordinary landlords who work with ASK Wellness to provide community members housing.

Taking away access to clean needles is not on the list of solutions.

Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Mel Rothenburger (5943 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on BEPPLE – Ordinary people, not politicians, will solve the opioid crisis

  1. Every addiction begins with “the first time”.
    If ‘the first time’ was a prescription for pain medication, then I feel our medical system owes at least follow up care to wean people from the dependency.
    If ‘the first time’ was a conscious decision to do drugs, the outcome is likely to be what we see as an epidemic today.

    Years ago, a fellow named Brigadier Greenwood of the Salvation Army told a group of people that in his years as an Officer, he never met a person addicted to alcohol who did not regret ever taking that first dink.

    That choice can be a result of complicated background, family and social factors. If a person can choose a full and joyous life without turning to alcohol or drugs to try and attain the elusive “happiness” in life, then we have won the battle.

    It only takes a few minutes watching a liquor store before a long weekend to see the choice many people take about alcohol. Soon, the substance of choice in government-approved stores will be cannabis.

    I make no apology in saying that I have a somewhat satisfying life without feeling the need to put alcohol or baneful drugs into my body. If I am in the minority, so be it.

    You’re right about the politicians, Nancy. Someone of a much higher authority must have a hand in sorting out this situation.

    • John:
      I don’t think addiction has to do with the substance…maybe I am not reading you correctly?
      The frame of mind is the problem and, in my opinion, it isn’t as much as an individual frame of mind but it is a societal frame of mind. Forgiveness, respect, honesty and thruthfulness are missing. We accociate for “convenience” rather than for a genuine interest for each other. We are a society that puts way to much emphasis on money and image. The “war on drugs” regardless of its forms will never be won unless we treat each other with honesty, truthfulness, respect and forgiveness.
      The politicians will never be able to legislate that! But the politicians are also members of society, someone friend, someone neighbor.

  2. But it is also ordinary people, like the present and former mayor that stand in the way at finding long lasting solutions…and not only regarding the opioid crisis.

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