'They talk, we die': Protesters push for action on overdose crisis

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Dozens gathered Tuesday on Parliament Hill to push the government to deal with opioid overdoses.

It was one of eight protests organized across the country by the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, an organization of past and present drug users, and their allies.

“Many people in this community know someone that has died,” said Rick Sproule, a member of the Ottawa-based Drug Users Advocacy League and the organizer of this protest.

He said that’s why he and many other Canadians are pushing hard for an end to the “war on drugs.”

He said he wants to see drug prohibition completely repealed.

“I know it’s an extreme position, but it’s the only permanent way out of the overdose crisis,” he said.

He said that would decrease illicit drug use and facilitate harm-reduction services, such as supervised injection sites and readily available kits with naloxone — the opioid antidote.

His fear remains fixed on the fact that counterfeit drugs often look like prescription drugs, meaning many aren’t always aware of what they’re consuming — or how deadly it could be.

“If we can regulate the drugs, we know how much is in them,” Sproule said, “Right now, the way the drug supply is on the street … you can never be sure how strong it is and what it is.”

Marilou Gagnon, carried two arrows in each of her hands Tuesday, one pointed at Parliament read, “They talk,” the other pointed back at the protesters read, “We die.”

The University of Ottawa nursing professor hoped to send a clear message: “We are expecting more at this stage.”

“A lot of us — nurses, social workers, physicians — want to see decriminalization, more access to naloxone, and supervised injection sites integrated comprehensively across Canada,” Gagnon said.

Within the drug-user community, the issue is visceral.

Jordon Maclean, a former user and one of the protesters, said he overdosed eight years ago, while waiting for rehab.

Eight years later, and he said he has yet to see real and effective change, and that the problem is only getting worse.

“In the past two years, we’ve lost 300 or 400 people,” he said, “We just lost a 14-year-old the other day.”

Ottawa teenager Chloe Kotval died on Valentine’s Day, two days after her mother found her unresponsive.

Now a social worker, Maclean witnesses how this crisis is effecting people in Ottawa everyday.

He spoke of a mother who asked him where she could get a naloxone kit for her daughter because she was certain her daughter was using heroin. He told her that she couldn’t get one.

“I wanted to give her mine, but I could get in trouble,” he recalled.

That was a year ago, before all Ontario pharmacies became eligible to dispense free naloxone emergency kits in June 2016. Today it is more readily available, he said, now that mother can go and get one.

“Things are changing, but people are still dying,” he said, “It’s still an epidemic.”

By Megan Harrison
Source: Ottawa Citizen