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Stigma associated with substance use hurts those seeking help: groups

Sep 01 2012
People gather for a ceremony at the intersection of Pandora Avenue and Quadra Street on Friday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. Organizers say 70 to 80 people died in the capital region last year from overdoses. 

People gather for a ceremony at the intersection of Pandora Avenue and Quadra Street on Friday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. Organizers say 70 to 80 people died in the capital region last year from overdoses.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (August 2012)

Jade Hood took a moment to remember her sister on Friday, laying down a white carnation to mark her overdose death more than 30 years ago. Then she celebrated her own sobriety.

It was Hood, 62, who found her sister's body - but she continued to use intravenous drugs for more than 10 years before she sought help.

"I lost my sister to an overdose, and if it wasn't for me finding the door to [Alcoholics Anonymous] and [Narcotics Anonymous], I would be a statistic too," Hood told the crowd gathered for International Overdose Awareness Day.

"After this vigil, I go and take my 19-year medallion and cake."

The event at the corner of Pandora Avenue and Quadra Street was held to increase awareness of overdoses and highlight the need for harm-reduction programs, said Karen Dennis, an organizer and executive director of Victoria AIDS Resource and Community Service Society.

While the event was held downtown, Dennis said substance abuse is found throughout the region.

Last year, she said, there were between 70 and 80 overdose deaths in the capital region. According to the B.C. Coroners Office, there were 12 illicit drug overdoses - which don't include prescription drugs - in Victoria in 2010.

"We need to get rid of the stigma associated with any form of substance use, which prevents so many people from getting help or calling when somebody else is in trouble," Dennis said.

She faced that stigma when she was struggling with her own cocaine and alcohol addiction. Clean for 19 years, she said she felt there was judgment when she tried to access services when she needed them.

One attendee carried a sign reading, "I support supervised consumption" - a sentiment echoed by many others calling for a supervised injection site in Victoria, similar to Vancouver's InSite.

Heather Hobbs, who works for AIDS Vancouver Island, said there was a need for such a site in Victoria as an integrated part of a harm-reduction response to drug use.

She also said there needs to be more awareness about naloxone, which counteracts opiate overdoses caused by drugs like heroin, morphine or oxycodone. mkaralis@timescolonist.com

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