Hall goes silent as sto­ries shared from drug front

Kit­si­lano picked as venue to ex­pand dis­cus­sion be­yond Down­town East­side

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - GEORDON OMAND

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.

“I think that that’s where the con­ver­sa­tion needs to move, ... to places where peo­ple might be over­dos­ing in pri­vate res­i­dences or qui­eter places be­cause of the stigma that still is as­so­ci­ated with them as a drug user.”

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.

She coined the term “fen­tanal­ity” to re­fer to a fen­tanyl fa­tal­ity.

The work­shops also in­cluded a train­ing ses­sion on how to re­spond to an over­dose, de­liv­ered by the Over­dose Pre­ven­tion So­ci­ety.

Kit­si­lano res­i­dent Deb­o­rah Buchanan vol­un­teered to be shown how to ad­min­is­ter nalox­one by filling a sy­ringe and in­ject­ing it into the leg of a stuffed toy go­rilla.

“I’m so happy I learned,” Buchanan said after­wards. “I need to know how to do this and help some­one.

“My son was in­volved in drugs, my mid­dle son, and it kind of tore me apart, be­cause I al­ways thought, ‘I’m go­ing to see you die one day and I don’t want to see that.’ ”

She said what she found most in­spir­ing was hear­ing from the sto­ry­tellers.

Fred­er­ick Wil­liams, a re­spon­der with the over­dose pre­ven­tion group, led the train­ing ses­sion. He said it’s im­por­tant that these events hap­pen out­side the Down­town East­side be­cause the over­doses have be­come a city-wide epi­demic.

“It’s very im­por­tant to have it come out to places like Kit­si­lano, Shaugh­nessy, all these higher-end neigh­bour­hoods,” he said in an in­ter­view fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion.

“They can’t put their head in the sand like an os­trich and think it’s go­ing to go away, be­cause it’s not.”

PHOTOS: DAR­RYL DYCK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

An­tonette Rea is among the users who spoke about the per­sonal ef­fects of B.C.’s opioid cri­sis at a com­mu­nity meet­ing in Kit­si­lano ear­lier this week.

Deb­o­rah Buchanan dis­plays the nalox­one kit she re­ceived af­ter learn­ing how to re­spond to an over­dose.

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