Stigma against people who use drugs results in discrimination, impacts health, and contributes to overdoses. Sharing stories of people who use drugs can reduce stigma.
Northern Health’s Stop Stigma. Save Lives. project shares the words of 12 people with firsthand or family experiences of drug use. Through these stories, we hope to build compassion, encourage empathy, and contribute to a community that treats all people with dignity and respect. We thank all of the participants for their courage and willingness to share their stories.
We all have a role to play to challenge stigma. We encourage you to learn from and share these stories. Make a pledge to stop stigma.
Stories were recorded in July 2016.
I was born in Dawson Creek and raised in Prince George; grew up on the Hart Highway. I came from a good home – my dad drove a chip truck, my mom was a housewife. I went to Kelly Road Secondary.
I didn’t do too well in school, got kicked out in Grade 8. I was in and out of different schools and left home on my own at age 16. I ended up hanging around downtown. I didn’t ask to be a drug addict, it just happened.
Me and my spouse, we’re homeless at the moment. We’re both struggling with addiction right now. I’ve been clean off and on for a couple years now but every now and then, we still slip. Homelessness is an ongoing thing we go through. When we don’t have a place to live, we’re stuck wandering around the streets downtown and there are no places to go. People shun you away because they see you downtown all the time and they just label you. It’s really hard when you’re looking for a place. And not only being a drug addict, but being native, too. That’s another thing – as soon as they look at me, they figure I’m an alcoholic. I haven’t drank for eight years.
What do I want people to know about addiction? That it can happen to anybody. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what race you are, where you come from. I’ve seen a lot of people who owned their own companies, who said “it’ll never happen to me.” But it does. It happens. It’s crazy. We don’t ask for it.
The impact of addiction on me has been pretty rough. Like at the hospital, the nurses, as soon as they know you are a drug user or even an ex-drug user – I could not be using for 10 years – and they just label me as drug-seeking. A lot of people won’t even go to the hospital because of the discrimination.
I feel judged by everybody – looking for a place or going into a business, they just take one look at me and label me right away “you’re no good,” “you’re a drug addict.” Just walking around downtown and stuff, you can feel the way people are looking at you, like you’re not supposed to be there. It’s hard.
I’m just as human as everybody else, I just have an addiction. These labels are hard, it’s sad. It makes me feel non-human, almost. It’s really hard.
I’d like to be treated like everybody else – a little bit more respect. Don’t shun me away. If you don’t know me, approach me and ask me a question. I’m happy to talk to people. I do peer counselling for another organization, I go to schools, I talk to children about not following in my footsteps. I don’t want them to end up where I am. Hopefully I get through to a couple of them – then it would be worth it.
I just need people to understand that addiction isn’t something I asked for. It’s like a disease. It happens to anybody, any walk of life. Start treating people with respect and don’t just think of them as a drug addict. Everybody needs help.
Another thing I wouldn’t mind getting across is about all of the overdoses going on in Prince George. I think that a really good thing would be to get a safe injection site. You won’t stop people from using drugs, but at least you can have a nurse be there when you’re using and not be by yourself in an alley or somewhere in the bushes. At least if there is a nurse there, they can give a Narcan shot. That’s one thing I’m trying to get going for Prince George.
Stigma is why it’s so hard for us to get a safe injection site in Prince George. You’ve got people and business owners who are against it, trying to stop safe injection sites. And stigmatizing people, that’s why they go hide and use on their own. And that’s why there are so many overdoses. There wouldn’t be as many overdoses if there was a safe injection site.
When you see people and you think they’re a drug addict, don’t shun them. Walk up to them and talk to them. Ask them, listen to their stories. You’d be surprised who these people are. Like I said, it can happen to anybody. I never asked for this, I never thought this would ever happen to me. It can happen to anyone.
What do you want people to know about you? What makes you happy?
I like walking around, going to parks. I like talking to people. I like being with my common-law spouse.
I miss my cat. We got a cat, we had him for six years but being homeless, we had to leave him until we can find a place. His name is Stink-Stink!
Things that make me happy? Not being discriminated against. I just like being safe. It would be really nice to have a place to go, a place to live. People with addictions need a safe place to be. Being on the street makes it a lot worse.
Things I’m proud of are when I go to school and talk to young kids. One or two of them even wrote me letters. I keep them in a file downstairs at Positive Living North. Every once in a while, I read them. It keeps me going, doing what I do. It’s nice.
I’d also like people to know that I do a lot of peer counselling. I go to schools, talk to kids about not doing what I did. I tell them my story and what brought me here. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did. It feels really good to be a peer counsellor. It makes me happy that I can try to make a difference, even if I reach just one or two people out there.