Nelson Comes Together to Fight Stigma and Overdose

February 13, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

Anyone can be affected by addiction and the overdose crisis – a fact poignantly brought to light in a new video series created by ANKORS, a group dedicated to helping people who are facing barriers get access to the services they need most.

The series, Beyond the Stigma of Drug Use, features the perspectives of those at the centre of the overdose emergency in Nelson, B.C. – people with lived experience using drugs, healthcare service providers, and first responders.

The deeply heartfelt stories shared through the series draw attention to the lives, struggles, and resilience of the community members that experience substance use every day.

I did my first shot of heroin when I was 15 years old. I’m 63 years old now, and so my life has been this process of almost living two lives. I’m a functioning addict for the most part, I work when I can and like to be treated like anybody else – like a person.

The fastest way you can get somebody to relapse, is by telling them they’re an addict.

Don’t think that you’re not ever going to be that person, because you never know what you could be.

ANKORS Executive Director Cheryl Dowden says the videos aim to open people’s hearts and minds by starting a dialogue around addressing stigma and drug use. The videos also show another story – the people of Nelson working together to save lives in their community. 

Each person featured in the videos describes how compassion and respect can reduce the stigma that, as Cheryl says, “drives drug use underground and contributes to people overdosing.”

The comments reflect Nelson’s accomplishments in harm reduction services and substance use awareness, resulting from efforts to bring key community stakeholders – from people with lived experience using drugs to local police and business owners – together to respond to this crisis in their community.

Most recently, ANKORS received funding to establish an indoor overdose prevention site in Nelson (one of the smallest communities in B.C. to do so) after successfully running peer-led, pop-up sites. The site opened in November 2018 and reduces the risk of fatal overdose by providing a space where people can consume substances under the supervision of someone trained to recognize and respond to an overdose. At the site, clients can also test their drugs for fentanyl and other highly-toxic substances.

Beyond the Stigma of Drug Use complements these harm reduction efforts by bringing the conversation about substance use to the broader community – and as Cheryl says, the message is resonating. 

“I’ve had people walk up to me at the grocery store and my kid’s soccer games and say ‘I saw those videos; they were really powerful and caused me to think about this. Thank you,’ she says. “Or, ‘I have this going on in my family and it brought up a lot of things for me.’

The responses have been complicated at times, but the important thing is people are engaging in open dialogue about the issues of substance use and related stigma. It’s something we need to shed light on and teach now more than ever. 

Learn more about harm reduction and find services in your community here.