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Stopping the stigma of drug use

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.

George’s Story

I was born in Prince Rupert. I was one of the youngest crab skippers out there, and I loved it. I loved the thrill, it was better than any drug. Man, sitting behind that wheel and catching fish, making money. I got the chance to run a million dollar crab boat. I kinda risked the lives of my deckhands because I had to prove to everybody that I could fish just as good as anybody. And I fished rough weather when I shouldn’t have – you know there weren’t too many days out on the Hecate Strait where the weather was good. We were catching lots of fish, but when it was nice out and the traps were loaded, there is no better feeling to me in the whole world. It was awesome. I miss it.

I miss fishing; I miss being out on the water. Because of my addictions, I lost that job. If I could do it all over again, I would never have started drugs because it has taken away a lot. I’ve lost a lot and it’s hard to get it back.

Since my addictions, and different diseases I’ve gotten with my addictions, it’s like everybody is scared to be around me. They think they’re going to catch something from me. It closed a lot of doors. And I’m still me. I’m still that guy that’s got it in him to go out and slay fish and work hard, but people don’t see it. They build up these stories or get these ideas in their head, and it’s so hard to change somebody else’s thought on how a person is when they are addicted. No matter how you try to show them and prove to them that you’re still you, they don’t see it.

In the beginning, it was more of a recreational thing to do. We’d all be in from fishing because the weather was blowing, and we’d buy a bunch of booze and somebody would buy a little bit of dope. When I was younger, it was mushrooms, acid, that kind of stuff. As we got older, it progressed into cocaine, heroin, stuff like that. And after a while, it wasn’t recreational any more. Everything revolved around it. It was something a person needed, or had to have. And then after a while, I got so addicted that if I didn’t have drugs, I’d be sick. And sometimes I think I’m going to try to make it through the sickness, but I never seemed to last long enough to do it. I’d end up going and trying to score to try to get better because it hurts to be sick.

Anybody that gets addicted usually goes from one drug to another and before you know it, you’re injecting, because you’re always looking for that better high. Eventually, if you aren’t safe, you end up getting infected with different diseases. A lot of them are incurable. There are a lot of days I wake up and my mind wants to do things but my body can’t. I don’t have the strength or the endurance I once had. It really sucks. I wish I could go back and never have done drugs. But once you do it and you like it, it’s so hard to quit. Because when you’re bored or things aren’t going right, it’s so easy to get high and try to escape reality.

One thing I would say to the youth is to not get into the dope. Don’t get started on the drugs. It’s not a good life. Even when you think you’ve got it under control, you don’t.

I moved to Prince George about 6 years ago. I moved here for medical issues and I was trying to get away from my addiction problems. I thought if I relocated it might help but it turned out that it really doesn’t. Your problems go with you no matter where you go. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been stuck in the downtown core. I’ve been homeless. I’ve slept outside for four winters. I wouldn’t call it living, more of a survival than anything since I’ve been here.

My previous girlfriend, they said she overdosed. I woke up one morning and she was dead. That was pretty tough. The coroner said it was an overdose but to me, I don’t see how. It’s bugged me ever since. To me, she didn’t overdose, it was impossible. We had $60 the night before, bought an 8-pack, went to McDonalds, and shared a 20 rock. And she woke up the next morning. She was hungry, we had breakfast, and went back to sleep. When I woke up, she was blue. I’ve tried to move on but it still makes me wonder. Maybe the dope was laced somehow? Because it just ain’t right to smoke a rock and overdose. Even if she were to have passed away right away, it would be hard to accept that she OD’d. Because you hear people ODing when they shoot, inject, and stuff like that but not from smoking. Though I have heard lately because they’ve been lacing drugs with fentanyl, that somebody did overdose this year from smoking a joint. Apparently it was laced with fentanyl. You would never suspect a joint being laced, but it doesn’t matter what type of drug you’re doing, how easy it could be to OD. The girl I’m with now, she got into heroin and she’s had about seven overdoses in the past year. I brought her back from three of them. It’s just crazy. It’s a pretty crazy world I’ve been living in lately.

When people know you’re doing drugs or are addicted to drugs, they don’t trust you. They think that you’re going to rob them or they tend not to hire you because they figure your drug addiction will keep you from showing up for work. It makes it hard. I grew up in a small community and it seemed like once I started doing drugs, everybody knew about it. Even though I tried to hide it behind closed doors, it only took one or two people to start talking about it and before you knew it, the whole town knew. And they paint a picture of you, whether it’s false or true, whatever they thought is the way they’d talk about you. “He did this” or “he did that”; “it’s probably because he is messed up on dope.” Even though something might have nothing to do with your addiction, everybody seems to blame certain things on a person’s addiction. I’ve heard so many different stories of employers saying, “they didn’t show up, they’re probably getting high.” Meanwhile, I know that employee is actually home sick. But even if you told the boss that, they don’t believe it because that’s what they got in their head. It’s hard enough to survive and make it in this world but when people don’t have faith in you, it doesn’t matter. It’s hard. It’s a hard world.

Even though I got my addictions, I’m still pretty trustworthy. I work hard for everything I get. I’ve never stolen a thing from anybody on the streets here, but yet I get robbed three or four times a week and on top of it, I’ve got the city taking my stuff. I have a hard time but it doesn’t make me go out and rob people. I’m not that type of person. Not everybody who does drugs is a hardcore criminal who would rob a person or do harm to others. Even though I have an addiction, I’d like to be treated equally, the same as anybody, until I prove that person wrong. We all come from a mom, we’re no different, we’re all humans.

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