By Nick Adams
T he headlines scream out to us “Three dead from drug overdose in Peterborough over the weekend” “Cannabis edibles to be made legal in December” “Ontario government increases access to alcohol.” The news regarding the overdoses is quite obviously bad but do we assume that the other two are then good news? After all something becoming legal must mean that it’s good for us and the convenience of increased access to alcohol can’t be a bad thing can it? These are the issues that we are being confronted with every day and it is the reason why we have a community drug strategy.
Substance use is a reality. According to Health Canada’s “Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs Survey 2017” 78 per cent of the country reports that they had a drink in the last year and 48 per cent of people have tried an illicit drug in their lifetime. The data available includes cannabis as an illicit drug. With cannabis now being legal we are already seeing a slight uptick in its use among Canadians. As a drug strategy we want to be able to look at the whole picture and not just at one side of the equation when it comes to substance use. In the case of alcohol greater access has traditionally led to more consumption and more consumption can put the user at greater risk for more than 200 diseases conditions and injuries. That is something that you probably won’t hear in a beer commercial.
Alcohol and substance use can affect our communities in a variety of ways. It places a greater demand on our health-care system with emergency room visits and treatment for chronic illnesses. It has economic repercussions for some and it greatly impacts worker productivity and employability. According to The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness economic insecurity paired with substance use can put individuals at a higher risk of becoming homeless leading to cycles that can be very hard to break out of. These issues then extend beyond the person who is using substances and impact their immediate family their friends and their community. Substance use can create complex issues that can rarely be solved with a “cookie cutter” or “one size fits all” approach.
The HKLN Drug Strategy is on the frontlines bringing awareness to these issues by collaborating with more than 50 partner agencies and using an evidence-based approach to minimize the risks and harms associated with substance use. Even if you decide your substance use is not an issue you probably do not have to look too far to see others who are struggling. It will take a community effort to begin to reduce the stigma that those who are struggling may be feeling. We seek to build bridges and mend fences with those in our community not construct walls and contribute to greater social isolation.
I believe that there is hope even as the headlines seem to paint a picture of hopelessness. I believe that as one person reaches out for help and people come alongside to support we will begin to make inroads into what at times is a very complicated mess. The work that the drug strategy continues to do with its partners will lead to an increased awareness and an increased capacity to handle difficult situations as they present themselves. It may take time but the time to begin the process is now. A popular Chinese proverb says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
We all have a role to play. You can begin to make a difference by examining the role of substances in your own life. If you don’t use substances you can learn about the potential harms and risks and share with your family and friends what you have learned. You can help create safe spaces where others can be encouraged to talk about their substance use without fear of judgment or blame. Return any unused medication to your local pharmacy so that it can be safely disposed of and pick up a free naloxone kit while you’re there. And if you or a family member think that your substance use has become a problem take advantage of the services and supports available in your local community.
In the weeks ahead I will take you through each of the Four Pillars of the HKLN Drug Strategy: Harm Reduction; Prevention and Education; Treatment; and Justice and Enforcement as well as take an in-depth look at a number of different substances and talk about their potential harms.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Nick Adams is the Media and Communications Worker for the Haliburton Kawartha Lakes Northumberland Drug Strategy. Through a series of weekly columns Nick will discuss how the Drug Strategy is reducing the harms and stigma around substance use in our communities and will offer a unique perspective to the various weekly topics by sharing his own personal experience.