Services and help for those who want it are too hard to access. The system isn’t designed for us.

In my community, the overdose rate has tripled since the pandemic started.

services are inaccessible services are inaccessible

I’m from Toronto, and grew up in a nice environment, but both sides of my family have a history of addiction and mental health issues. Unlike many people, I was introduced to drugs later in life—my early 40s—through my social circle at the time. Coping with the challenges of daily life has been difficult, and working in a bar also made it easier to access my substance of choice.

As a person who used substances, feeling judged and stigmatized is a part of life. You see it in the way people treat and interact with you. People would spread rumours because of those I would hang around with, but having a sense of community is important. You don’t feel as alone.

In my community, the overdose rate has tripled since the pandemic started. People are dying because there are not enough resources to get help; or if there is help, there is a long waitlist in order to access the service. This needs to change. Losing so many people is very depressing, heart breaking, and mentally exhausting.

There are many people out there who want to get help but can’t because the services are inaccessible. Not everyone has a computer or government ID required to fill out forms and applications. I can tell you that if OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance) covered more services and there were shorter wait times, people would be able to access help and find a path to wellness much easier. The system makes it so hard.

“In my community, the overdose rate has tripled since the pandemic started.”

A safe injection site where people can access clean supplies would save lives. We desperately need one in our community. Also, we need to get the government on board to have a place where people can obtain safe drugs (safe supply) so people don’t overdose and die. Right now, the drugs people buy on the street are even more toxic and dangerous. Everything has gotten so bad because of COVID-19.

Safe injection sites and a “safe supply” of substances would prevent overdoses and stop the spread of diseases. Also, if there were little to no wait times for treatment, people could get the help right then and there as opposed to waiting and changing their minds. When someone decides to reach out for help, there is a short window of opportunity to provide it, and right now the system isn’t designed to meet that need and be that quick—that’s why it’s failing us.

Decriminalizing drugs is also important. Right now, many cities like Vancouver and Montreal are seriously considering the idea, and it’s important because it would make the people’s lives that I work with easier since they can have the freedom to use without judgement. It would make it easier for people who want help to come forward to receive it. Criminalizing substance use just makes it go underground and become more dangerous, not to mention all the money that is wasted in policing substance use and punishing people for it. This doesn’t help. Sending someone to jail just makes their lives more unstable and less likely that they will be able to turn their life around.

“Criminalizing substance use just makes it go underground and become more dangerous, not to mention all the money that is wasted in policing substance use and punishing people for it.”

Legally regulated drugs (“safe supply”), would prevent overdoses in the community, since the drugs would be clean and not mixed with other dangerous chemicals.

We’re in a really difficult time in history right now. When I think of the future, I think of a time when people who are suffering have a more positive community with more treatment centres and a life where we all love each other without judgement. I hope when the world comes out of this pandemic, we can realize this society.

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