Life and Death – overdose Calls in Toronto. On Saturday night, sewing pillows with my friend, watching the fourth season of skins, and intermittently scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit, I came across a post that warned that there had been a 911 call every 15 minutes for overdoses in Toronto that evening. It was only 9:30, the night was still young. The writer of the Reddit post, “u/heyvolpe”, had just seen his neighbour being dragged down the stairs by an EMS worker who gave him this information. He was concerned enough to make a ‘public’ alert that would warn at least a few Reddit users. The post generated a lot of conversation – 556 comments with tips for how to test for fentanyl with “Bunk Police” test strips, information on Naloxone kits and nose spray, debates about abstinence, and more. The post spread through my Facebook community, but from my research, not too much further. I can’t make any claims to the validity of a Reddit post, and there was no further report on any reputable news source, but it was certain that a bad batch of drugs was going around the city.
As a previous user myself, and one who has strong relationships – both new and life long – with people who use drugs, recreationally and habitually, this post disrupted the self care night that my friend and I were planning on having. It led both of us, who are closely engaged with marginalized communities, to quit what we were doing and send out mass texts – warning our loved ones, asking if they were okay, and waiting impatiently for responses.
I’m only 24, and can’t speak much to the past, but I believe that during the current opiate crisis, this is a very common experience. In the last year it feels like every week I read another Facebook post about a person I know who has OD’d (overdosed) – both the addicts and the recreational users. People who were beautiful, creative, and full of possibilities – people who loved and were loved. This is a fear that we live with, whether consciously or not. It is one that can be confronted in many ways – some people think the best thing to do so is to cut those who use drugs out of their lives (calling this tough love), some may set firm boundaries, and others may try to offer support in ways that they’re not appropriately equipped. Some go to Al-anon, a family of addict’s support group, and some seek private counselling. For me, it’s mostly on a person by person basis, where I’m always learning what works, and what doesn’t, what I can give, and what I can’t give.
Relationships can be complicated at best but relationships with people struggling with substance use issues is exhausting. Their suffering, and my inability to be much help, leaves me feeling frustrated and upset. Trying to live normally and find pleasure and enjoyment in the face of their suffering often makes me feel selfish, and afraid that there’s more I should be doing to help. These issues are confusing and often overwhelming. It’s so important to find assurance that I’m not alone in this, and it’s not something I have to tackle by myself. I’m inspired by the work that people in the field are doing. Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance and Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, to name a couple of important groups, are working tirelessly to end stigma, raise awareness, advocate for drug testing facilities, safe injection sites, and policy change. The work that these people are doing is vital to the well being of both users, and those of us who love them.