By Mike Ma
Yesterday I attended a powerful event in Abbotsford organized around the issue of drug user empowerment, the challenge of stigma, and stigma causing practices. The event was titled “Drug User Groups and Community Resilience”.
It was an event organized by Ann Livingston and Erika Thomson and supported by a wide variety of organizations that included:
· BC/Yukon Associations of Drug War Survivors (BCYADWS)
· Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)
· Rural Empowered Drug User Network (REDUN)
· BC Association of People on Methadone (BCAPOM)
· Society of Living Illicit Drug Users (SOLID)
· Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS)
· SALOME NAOME Association of Patients (SNAP)
· Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD)
· Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect (VYPER)
· Fraser Health Authority
· BC Centre for Disease Control - Peer Engagement and Evaluation Project (PEEP)
· BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General - Opioid Dialogues Fund
· Overdose Prevention and Education Network (OPEN) - Community Action Initiative
· Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSUA)
· University of the Fraser Valley - Criminology Department
· Centre for Addiction Research of BC (CARBC)
· Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH)
· SARA for Women
· Abbotsford Community Services
· IMPACT: Youth & Family Substance Use Services
The event was very well attended with over a 150+ participants. Dr. Alexix Crabtree and Ann Livingston facilitated the first half of the day long event with discussions around stigma and substance use. The room was filled with current and past substance users, different service providers, supporting organizations, and some academics.
The event started off-balance as it was moved at the last minute from its original location –at University of Fraser Valley—to the Abbotsford Banquet & Conference Centre. The University’s Security Office had safety concerns with the invitation of so many drug user groups and they mandated the last minute hiring of extra security and ambulance services that the organizers could not afford. This last minute eviction became a point of discussion during the day’s event and was a strong example of the ongoing problem of stigma that people who use drugs face in Abbotsford and surrounding areas.
I had engaging discussions with a variety of participants. Alex S. (ANKORS) talked at length about police services anxious concern with being contaminated by Fentanyl if/when it touches the skin of an officer. Barbara Saunders and Alexandra Unger talked about the death of their loved one – Merlin Saunders—who was killed by Fentanyl on December 27, 2016. Kat Wahamaa spoke eloquently about the loss of her son to Fentanyl and the power of the arts to give voice to those who are voiceless. Garth Mullins, The BC Association of People on Methadone (BCAPOM), was a powerful speaker about the recent poor changes in ORT treatment that has seen methadone replaced by the inferior “methadose” because the College of Pharmacists has a new pharma provider. Jordon Westfall, Canadian Association of People who use Drugs (CAPUD), was in attendance and gave a presentation about the human rights of people who use drugs and the necessity of respecting and listening to users during this Fentanyl crisis. Dr. Jane Buxton, Centre for Disease Control, gave an informative talk about the myths of drug use and Fentanyl and helped unpack some of the anxiety that some police have regarding Fentanyl contamination of officers. She also unpacked the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, and I learned that "volunteers" need never worry about liability issues and should never fear prosecution!
At the conclusion of the morning session, the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors presented Harm Reduction Hero Awards to Ann Livingston, Erika Thomson, and Jane Buxton.
It was great attending this event in Abbotsford. It is not something I would naturally associate with this community. It gave hope that attitudes and services really can change and improve. Small steps.