At this time each year International Overdose Awareness Day brings our focus onto drug use, drug abuse, and addiction, and how these affect our community in the film industry. And the wider community in BC.
Our province’s overdose crisis reached epic proportions in 2020, with an unprecedented number of 1,716 deaths—the highest number of fatal overdoses on record for any one year. Contributing to this stark situation is the heightened circulation of toxic or tainted drugs, a very real and scary problem here in B.C. In May 2021 alone, there were 160 suspected drug poisoning deaths, equal to 5 deaths per day.
And our sector is not immune – we have lost brothers and sisters from within our BC film unions to drug overdose. This is a great tragedy, and a deep grief that was one of the key motivators behind the founding of the Calltime campaign.
A particularly tragic dimension of the issue is that overdoses are occurring right in people’s homes, where they use drugs that they thought would be safe. Many of those lost didn’t necessarily grapple with addiction issues but were using recreationally but with tainted drugs. And far too many are dying from overdose because they’re using alone.
International Overdose Awareness Day’s mission is to end fatal overdoses and honor its victims without judgment or stigma. Let us take this time to pause and reflect on how substance use and addiction affects the people around us, whether friends, family members or colleagues, many of whom have suffered for years in shame and silence.
Perhaps we can also take this moment to pay closer attention to ourselves – our own substance abuse challenges, perhaps addictions, and to view them through a lens of greater acceptance and self-compassion. There is always a ‘why’ behind all that we do; a driving force that leads us to action. Let us have compassion for ourselves as we begin to understand our ‘why’.
Importantly, let’s take pause and remember that fatal overdoses are preventable.
Reflecting the Overdose Awareness campaign’s goals, we can also create space for the following thoughts and behaviors:
We can publicly mourn loved ones lost to overdose in a safe environment, without stigma or feeling guilt or shame.
We can learn more about fatal and non-fatal overdoses and prevention options
We can take a moment to send a positive, strong message to those who use drugs, namely: that they’re valued and important.
We can learn more about the range of support services available in our communities, and become an advocate and voice promoting anti-stigma, acceptance, awareness and positive solutions and government policy.
Drug addiction in Canada: a tragically common trend
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 21% of the population of Canada (approximately 6 million people) will meet the criteria for addiction at some point in their lifetime. When seen in this light, we begin to realize that substance abuse and addictions’ challenges are incredibly common across Canada.
Prior to a fatal or non-fatal overdose, a particular pattern is often present, and all-too often concealed. First, the person’s habits begin as an occasional, experimental venture into drug exploration, for the purposes of experiencing a rush, euphoria or simply to let loose. Sometimes it’s to deal with work stress or long hours where we struggle to stay awake.
Whatever the initial reason, what was occasional becomes regular and beings to spiral out of control over time.
Ultimately, the addiction takes center stage and begins to call all the shots. And the choices we make regarding our substance use - when we use, where we use, and where we buy our supply - become less cautious, leading to careless mistakes and high risk choices.
You might ask yourself the question: what can we do to help those around me to prevent more deaths? Or what can I do to try to address my own addiction issues?
As the saying goes—the first step to solving any mental health challenge is recognition and acceptance. The answer is not to ignore the proverbial ‘pink elephant’ in the room – drug use and overdose risk. We all will need to be aware and find our time to say out loud: “there is an elephant in this room. In this home. In this office. On this set. In this group. I might not like it, but he’s here. He’s making me feel uncomfortable, but he’s here…”
Ultimately, the elephant’s presence must be acknowledged.
For ourselves, we can also begin to speak openly about our substance abuse with supportive others in our environment, whether that’s a psychologist, a community resource, peer support, or trusted colleague. The act of naming our struggle is very important. The burden is hard enough to carry. We don’t have to manage everything on our own. We can ask for help and support.
Ending addiction: a call to action
As you reflect further today, it’s important to bear in mind that, although no two people with addictions’ challenges are the same—every person has a unique life experience—a common denominator does exist, namely, that of wishing to alleviate suffering of some kind, whether that is fear, shame or sadness. Complimentary to this common denominator is also the underlying belief that we’re alone and lack the tools to cope with current life stressors.
But help is here, supports are accessible, tools and resources are available. we assure you: you do have the ‘internal capacity’, the tools to prevent a fatal or non-fatal overdose.
You are more powerful than you think.
For more information on the International Overdose Awareness Day campaign, please visit https://www.overdoseday.com/
For information and resources in BC visit https://www.stopoverdose.gov.bc.ca/
For more information on substance abuse and drug addiction, and where you can go for help, please see our previous blog post https://www.calltimementalhealth.com/spotlight-substance-abuse-and-addiction
For more information and resources on alcohol and drug use https://cmha.bc.ca/document-category/alcohol-and-other-drugs/