How harm reduction saved my life and put me on a path to hope

Jordan is a client of an injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) program in Edmonton, Alberta living with his family. He has just started his own consulting business, JRDS Consulting, and has a loving partner and a dog named Mr. Mills.

how harm reduction saved my life how harm reduction saved my life how harm reduction saved my life

Heartbreak and uncertainty danced in the air. Unaware of the heartbreak, the uncertainty is the most pressing to me. While I pack as much of my life that I can in a bag, my parents are doing their best to encourage an increase in my speed. I left packing to the last minute. Not on purpose. Generally, I like to be prepared; but lately, I’m just trying to stay afloat. Survival mode is profoundly stressful. In fact, experiencing it was heavy for all of my family. I was living with them and going through a lot. I felt immense shame. I was using crack and hydromorphone to deal with that pain. Due to those dependencies I had no money, still lived at home, and now, had no job. I want to deal with these issues, I thought, “why not Vancouver!?” My Baba and Gida live there and I have good, sober friends there too. So, we all had hope for my Vancouver move.

My parents, brother and I arrive at the airport. We say strangely solemn goodbyes and share loving hugs. Still unknown to me, my mom had received news that her mother had passed in the night. Through that loss, my parents pushed on that morning. They believed in me and my move to Vancouver.

I am stoked to finally be landing. Arrival texts were sent to my parents and my Baba. Thankfully, I organized plans to stay with K, an old high school friend, until I found a place. I hopped in a cab and headed towards her house. Arriving was a relief, but I was starting to withdraw. I needed opiates to deal with this pain, and quick. We timed a dealer with my arrival, bought a $40 bag of heroin and began to have an awesome day. We took the SkyTrain from Richmond to Granville. Walking everywhere we could eventually landed us in the Downtown Eastside. By now, the day had faded into evening and we both wanted to take a break from walking, and to my excitement, I see a sign: Insite. I was interested in drugs and harm reduction, but I had never been to a supervised consumption site before.

“They cared for my safety and wellbeing. I felt accepted and a huge potential for my life.”

I remember everything about my experience arriving at Insite. I remember the way the waiting room felt, how busy the lobby was, and the respect I received from the workers. When I walked in, they asked me if I had used the services before. I said, “Nope. It’s my first time!” I thought up a moniker for myself. I’d give my nickname and then wait for my turn. I was offered juice or coffee and the health care workers asked me about my history and drug use, all completely anonymously. They cared for my safety and wellbeing. I felt accepted and a huge potential for my life. I felt a sense of agency there over my choice to use drugs. The feeling was surreal. Until this point, I had been so convinced that I was failing myself by still using drugs. I felt shame and judgement. I was angry and stigmatized. The frustration I felt about being a drug user was beyond overwhelming. Yet, here I was in Insite feeling absolutely none of that.

“At Insite, I became educated about medication-assisted treatment and the street drug supply. Apparently, many heroin samples are fentanyl so I felt safer using an SCS. I began developing goals around my use and decided to try Suboxone.”

Something awakened within me around my drug use. I learned how to use a naloxone kit to reverse opioid overdoses. At Insite, I became educated about medication-assisted treatment and the street drug supply. Apparently, many heroin samples are fentanyl so I felt safer using an SCS (supervised consumption service). I began developing goals around my use and decided to try Suboxone. I even met someone who was on the injectable treatment at Crosstown. I was enamoured being in this environment around other people who inject drugs and those who are compassionate and passionate for drug users’ rights. I found a sense of belonging. I call the effect that supervised consumption services had on me, “potentiating my life.” These intense experiences did not end when I left Vancouver. I have experienced all of those positives and more at Alberta SCSs as well.

READ MORE: What is harm reduction?

Unfortunately, after such a profound first day, I received the call from my mother. I was shocked to hear that my family had known about the loss all morning and still got me where I needed to be. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the choices my family made to get me out to Vancouver. I have pride that I chose to use drugs in that incredible place. Though my living in Vancouver was cut much shorter than I had anticipated, I began a journey towards wellbeing that doesn’t always rely on whether or not I am sober, and that to me is priceless. Using drugs doesn’t make someone a lesser person. We are all equal. Now, I get to share my stories and lived experience through my consulting business, JRDS Consulting. Using my challenges as strengths in my work give me a great sense of purpose.

Thank you for reading.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policies grounded in evidence, social justice, and compassion. www.drugpolicy.ca