According to a report released April 5 by the BC Coroner’s Service, the year 2017 saw 37 deaths on the North Island due to drug overdose. Thirteen of those deaths occurred here in the Comox Valley. That’s 13 families forever changed; 13 lives that will never have the opportunity to change.
This is a heartbreaking statistic, but to be honest there are other heartbreaking statistics every day…. cancer deaths, car accidents, drownings. So what is the difference between these and the 13 overdose deaths our community experienced in 2017? The level of shame or stigma that surrounds each one.
To find evidence that stigma is alive and well in our community, one need only look as far as the bus shelter by the Thrifty’s on Cliffe Avenue. Stop Overdose BC, the group responsible for the bus shelter ad states on their website: “Knocking down the walls of silence that keep people from talking about substance use is an important step towards addressing the overdose crisis in British Columbia. Recognizing that people who use drugs are real people helps to put a human face behind the numbers of so many preventable tragedies.”
In response to this inclusive, de-stigmatizing ad campaign, someone chose to vandalize the poster, and make visible their view of individuals who use drugs.
The last plea in the poster is, “Get help.” Why would anyone choose to open up and get help if there is a possibility of being viewed as a “dumb f—-“?
To be fair, behaviour makes sense; and perhaps that person’s reaction comes from being directly affected by someone’s substance use. In which case, the ad could just as easily say “husband of a drug user, father of a drug user, co-worker of a drug user” and the plea would be the same as well – get involved, get informed, and please….get help. Silence helps no one, and only makes stigma stronger.