An­swers to the Over­dose Epi­demic

The Province - - ADVERTISMENT - Jor­dan West­fall, Pres­i­dent, Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Peo­ple Who Use Drugs

Ev­ery­body wants to speak for over­dose vic­tims af­ter their deaths. New laws are passed in their names, their faces adorn the front pages of news­pa­pers, and politi­cians prom­ise to never again take their lives for granted. But while they’re breath­ing, no­body wants to lis­ten.

How could they? Pol­i­cy­mak­ers will rarely be in the same room with us.

There’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal cru­elty to this that peo­ple who haven’t been drug users might not un­der­stand. In death, over­dose vic­tims are pub­licly granted the hu­man­ity that could have saved their lives in the first place, if only it were of­fered ear­lier.They’re spo­ken about as hu­man be­ings. In life, you’re an ad­dict, a junkie, or a fiend. These are terms that re­duce an en­tire life into a “prob­lem­atic be­hav­ior.”

Most of us live and die by de­ci­sions made in board­rooms that we don’t ever see.In­stead,we see the in­side of prison cells or morgues. We see friends die, and gov­ern­ment ex­clude us from de­ci­sions that de­ter­mine our liveli­hood.

Bri­tish Columbia de­clared a public health emer­gency and con­vened an ex­pert task­force led by bu­reau­crats, physi­cians, and re­searchers. The peo­ple dy­ing were not in­cluded. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment hosted a na­tional dis­cus­sion on opi­oid use last Novem­ber in Ot­tawa, and even Health Min­is­ter Jane Philpott ad­mit­ted that Health Canada “left some of the most im­por­tant voices out of the dis­cus­sion.”

Ex­clu­sion from gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions won’t stop us from tak­ing lead­er­ship. Re­cently, the Toronto Harm Re­duc­tion Al­liance (THRA) opened an un­sanc­tioned over­dose preven­tion site in the city’s Moss Park. Other ini­tia­tives in Van­cou­ver, in­clud­ing the Van­cou­ver Area Net­work of Drug Uses (VANDU) com­pletely user-led over­dose preven­tion site, crush the stigma that sug­gests drugs users can’t act with agency and take con­trol over a dire sit­u­a­tion.

Over­dose preven­tion ef­forts like VANDU and THRA’s il­lus­trate the so­lu­tion to the cri­sis — em­pow­er­ment in the form of peo­ple who use drugs — tak­ing the agency that gov­ern­ments have been too un­con­cerned or timid to take and re­claim­ing what be­longs to us: Our health.

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