Almost one in five Canadians will struggle with substance use or mental illness this year. What’s more, 11 people die each day from opioid overdose. Most likely, someone you know — whether you’re aware of it or not — is struggling. It’s at a crisis level. What would it be like if that suffering didn’t have to be invisible? This shame and stigma can be eliminated and replaced with empathy. There’s four small yet powerful things you can do to get us there. Pick one. Or all. Your compassion can help save a life.
Talk about it
The more we talk about it, the more our empathy will grow and the easier it will be for those suffering to speak up and access help.
Watch your language
“If you want to care for something, you call it a ‘flower,’ but if you want to kill something, you call it a ‘weed,’” says Don Coyhis, who founded the sobriety non-profit White Bison. Changing the words we use is an easy way to reduce stigma. Instead of saying “addict,” say “a person who uses drugs.” Say “a person with substance use disorder” rather than “a junkie.”
Add to your first aid kit
You never know when you might be in a situation where someone will overdose. Naloxone hydrochloride kits, available for free at many pharmacies, save lives. The more we bring this out into the open, and simply treat a naloxone kit as an essential part of a first aid kit and an important tool in saving lives, the more we can reduce the stigma associated with drug use. Recently, I finally got a kit last week. And guess what? The sky did not fall in when I asked for it. I got my kit as well as a brief tutorial on how to use it should an emergency arise.
Support injection sites
These are places where someone can use drugs in a safe, supervised environment and they are critical to the public health of our communities. Overdoses can be reversed by on site staff and through respectful, and supportive relationships, users can be connected with health and treatment. Simply put, you can’t get someone into treatment if they have already overdosed and died. Think about the politicians you vote for and their views on safe injection sites. Support the activists who are doing this work, at ground level. You can give money. You can give water or snacks for the clients. Small things can make a huge difference.