‘Addiction led me to losing everything’
Tom Poolton describes himself as an “11-year-old in a 23-year-old body”.
As a youngster growing up in Dunnville, Poolton was prescribed opioids to deal with the pain of an ankle injury, and he became addicted.
For 10 years Poolton, who now lives in Simcoe, struggled with his habit. He spent years using and bouncing in and out of jail. He overdosed once and had a heart attack at the age of 20. Eventually, Poolton reached out for help and after a 21-day detox fell off the wagon, but he returned to Holmes House, an addiction facility in Simcoe, and is now clean and sober.
Poolton was one of three recovering addicts to share their story as part of a Let’s Talk About Opioids community information event hosted by the Harm Reduction Action Team, a group of local partners at Delhi District Secondary School on Tuesday night.
“Addiction led me to losing everything,” Poolton said. “At the age of 20 I was homeless and that lasted for about seven months. I was living out on the streets, I lost my family, my friends, my self-respect, everything. That finally broke me and I reached out and asked for help.”
Poolton said the staff at Holmes House treated him as a real person as opposed to simply an addict. They’ve allowed him to re-prioritize as he tries to live a better life.
“I was born into a family of addiction and alcoholism so my view on life was that drugs and alcohol were a normal way to live,” Poolton said. “That was my coping mechanism, my solution to problems, everything. I still struggle, growing up in a family and a household in that environment, it’s really hard to get out of that way of thinking and that mindset.”
By using throughout his teens, Poolton said he missed out on many learning and development experiences that most adults take as second nature. Slowly but surely he’s learning and growing.
“It’s almost like I’m a little child again but I’m 23-years-old,” he added.
In addition to some personal stories, the forum included speakers representing the Ontario Provincial Police, a pharmacist explaining exactly what addiction is and how it affects the brain, and a member of the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
In 2015, Haldimand-Norfolk recorded the highest percentage of individuals taking high strength opioids when compared to all other Ontario municipalities. Overall drug rates here are higher in both males and females versus the provincial average.
The gathering stressed the number of local options available for anyone seeking help.
“It’s definitely in our community just like it is anywhere else across the country,” said Tamara Robb, a public health nurse with the health unit. “The most recent statistics indicated that out of the 36 health units (in Ontario), Haldimand-Norfolk ranked second for opioid-related deaths. It definitely is in our community which is why we’re having these events to raise that awareness and get people talking about it.”
Another public meeting will take place at Lakewood Elementary School Nov. 15 from 6-8:30 p.m.
For Poolton, who recently began studying to get his high school diploma, being able to tell his story is about helping others as well as himself.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest things that helps me and gives me some pride back and takes away the worthless feeling. It gives me some self-worth and a purpose to give something back and hopefully help somebody that is in the same position I’m in.”
Simcoe resident Tom Poolton tells his story of drug use and recovery at a Let's Talk About Opioids public information event at Delhi District Secondary School Tuesday. The gathering featured a number of speakers representing the Harm Reduction Action Team, a group of local partners including — among others — the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, Norfolk OPP and Canadian Mental Health Association Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk.