ADDICTION AWARENESS – Love in the Time of Fentanyl is about real people
By JACOB ROTHENBURGER
People living with opioid addiction are not faceless. They are real people with real histories who are worthy of compassion and respect.
This is the core message of Love in the Time of Fentanyl, a documentary screened at the Paramount Theatre on Wednesday (Sept. 1, 2022), to coincide with Addiction Awareness Day.
The documentary follows paid volunteers at the Overdose Prevention Society supervised injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as they deal with the ongoing fentanyl epidemic. By offering an unflinching look into the lives and deaths of the people they help, director Colin Askey paints a picture of DTES residents as human beings — friends and loved ones.
The realities of the job are laid bare within the opening minutes of the film, as harm reduction worker Ronnie Grigg explains to new staff in an orientation that they ask that they not use while on shift, but if they must use, that they do so “only to a maintenance level” so that they are able to finish the shift.
In one memorable scene, he leaps into action to manage two potential overdoses in progress, hurrying back and forth, monitoring their status and issuing instructions.
“Keep reminding him to breathe,” he tells a staffer.
“Steve,” he says to the man in question as he droops forward, “try to keep breathing, because then we won’t have to Narcan you (administer Naloxone), and we don’t want to Narcan you if we don’t have to.”
The man is eventually shown sitting up straight once again, weary but awake.
Following the showing, two of the volunteers who appear in the film joined a panel discussion including volunteers for Addictions Matter and ASK Wellness. Dana, an active fentanyl user at the time of filming, said it’s taken a long time “to feel like I’m not a defective human being,” but affirmed several times that he’s an optimist, both about his future and the future of the opioid crisis.
Panelists remarked repeatedly on the importance of empathy. As shown onscreen, everyone suffering through addiction has a painful story to tell. Just listening to those stories without judgment is a good start.
“Maybe say hi to the next homeless person you see. See what happens!” joked another panelist, although he wasn’t really joking — he’s been homeless himself.
In between telling their stories, the panelists expressed admiration for Kamloops and the kindness of its people. “You have an amazing place here,” said Dana, referring to its natural beauty, cleanliness, and warm heartedness. The locals can’t help but agree. Indeed, said panelist Ryan, it was the people of Kamloops who helped him get back on his feet.
Love in the Time of Fentanyl ends with Ronnie Grigg leaving Overdose Prevention Society, leaving the audience to wonder what he will do next. Since filming, he says he has founded a new non-profit society, Zero Block. It’s named for a physical location in the DTES, but also for the ultimate goal of zero deaths from overdose.
Asked how to apply lessons learned from the DTES to a small town like Kamloops, Grigg replied that Vancouver and Kamloops have unique problems and it isn’t for him or Dana to answer. But the people in the community know exactly what’s happening, and they very likely know how to fix it as well. Too often, he said, we forget that people dealing with street issues are capable of thinking through a problem on their own and coming up with the best possible solution.
About 100 people attended the screening. This was the seventh showing of the film since it premiered in May, following events in Vancouver, Edmonton, and most recently Nelson.
“real people with real histories who are worthy of compassion and respect” – captured my attention and interest to read the rest!
Even though this was mainly a review, I now want to learn more. Thank you