Drug users, first re­spon­ders share their sto­ries


More than a month had passed be­fore An­tonette Rea found the note her young friend had writ­ten her be­fore fa­tally over­dos­ing ear­lier this year.

“Thank you so much for sav­ing my life,” Rea reads aloud to a crowd of 80 peo­ple packed into a com­mu­nity hall in the tony Van­cou­ver neigh­bour­hood of Kit­si­lano.

“I love your danc­ing and your singing and sorry for us­ing all of your nail pol­ish and art sup­plies,” she con­tin­ues, prompt­ing laugh­ter from the oth­er­wise si­lent au­di­ence. She smiles and puts down the note: “I called her Jilly Bean. Jilly.”

Rea was one of more than a half-dozen drug users and first re­spon­ders based in Van­cou­ver’s Down­town East­side who shared their sto­ries with res­i­dents liv­ing else­where in the city over the past six weeks as part of a se­ries of over­dose aware­ness and pre­ven­tion work­shops.

Mon­day evening’s gath­er­ing in Kit­si­lano was the last of six events aimed at de­liv­er­ing sto­ries from the front line of B.C.’s over­dose epi­demic.

Jackie Wong helped fa­cil­i­tate the pro­gram, which was or­ga­nized by the Over­dose Pre­ven­tion So­ci­ety and Me­ga­phone Mag­a­zine, a monthly pub­li­ca­tion sold by home­less and low-in­come ven­dors.

It is im­por­tant the over­dose con­ver­sa­tion hap­pens be­yond the Down­town East­side, in neigh­bour­hoods where drug use is not as pub­lic, Wong said.

Sto­ry­tellers in­cluded peo­ple who sur­vived the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem or var­i­ous forms of vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion, those who ex­pe­ri­enced a trau­matic child­hood or worked in the sex trade.

Rea is a trans­gen­der poet and play­wright who has strug­gled with drug ad­dic­tion and once worked as a pros­ti­tute in the Down­town East­side.

She said there is a good chance her friend Jilly Bean would be alive if she had over­dosed in the Down­town East­side in­stead of in North Burn­aby, thanks to the lack of over­dose-pre­ven­tion train­ing and re­sources out­side of Van­cou­ver’s hard­est-hit neigh­bour­hood.

The hall was com­pletely quiet as Sa­mona Marsh spoke about the num­ber of peo­ple she knows who have died from an over­dose, in­clud­ing her fa­ther in early 2017.

“If I had one wish or mag­i­cal wand, I would bring back ev­ery­one’s friends and fam­i­lies who passed away and make fen­tanyl non-ex­is­tent,” said Marsh, who has lived in the Down­town East­side for the past 25 years.


Deb­o­rah Scott per­forms res­cue breath­ing on a stuffed an­i­mal while learn­ing how to re­spond to an over­dose dur­ing a com­mu­nity meet­ing in Kit­si­lano on Mon­day.

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