An upcoming series of events is aiming to change the conversation around substance use and drug overdose in Surrey.
The Stop Overdose Surrey series, organized by the Surrey Overdose Community Action Team, will take place across the city over the next few weeks.
George Passmore, who is manager of counselling and substance use services for Sources Community Resources, hopes the events will start breaking down stigma for people with substance use disorders the same way that Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign has begun to improve the conversation surrounding mental health.
A large part of the upcoming Stop Overdose Surrey events is to talk about the “lens we look through” and learn how to understand and generate compassion, said Passmore.
Mark Goheen, who is the Fraser Health clinical services lead for mental health and substance use, will talk about how to have better conversations at the events, including how to talk about substance use, and how to move on from stigma to a more understanding place.
Kajan Johnson, a mixed martial artist who competes as an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter, will speak about his experiences and his own story of perseverance.
The problem, Passmore said, is that many still have the idea that drug addiction is a choice, and that “you’re doing this to yourself.”
“I’ve never met anyone who said, ‘I’m going to get hijacked by this chemical,’” he said.
“If there’s less stigma, people might be more willing to acknowledge what’s happening and reach out for help.”
As Passmore explained, there are opportunities to change the conversation around substance use and people should “be mindful that if someone in your circle is struggling with substance abuse, the way you talk about it affects them.”
A loved one is much less likely to approach you for help if they believe you have anger or resentment towards people who have substance use issues. That isolation is dangerous, as people who are using alone are more likely to be unaware of safe practices.
“If you use in shame or in secrecy … you tend not to develop awareness of safety,” said Passmore. “The more connection they have, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviours.”
Across B.C., more than 1,400 people died of overdose in 2017, 43 per cent more people than in 2016.
It’s a common assumption that the overdose crisis is confined to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or Whalley’s 135A Street; however, 70 per cent of people who die from overdoses in the Fraser region do so in private residences — in every part of the city. Stigma pushes people into isolation, which can be deadly if they are at risk of overdose.
The upcoming events will encourage conversation, and attendees will be able to ask questions of presenters.
The evening “is not meant to be a political event. We’re not coming up with bigger solutions,” said Passmore. “It’s more about the community and the relationships that will help save lives … because people are less likely to reach for comfort in their lives [through substance use] when they have the comfort of care.”
Stop Overdose Surrey will be presented in three events throughout Surrey: Monday, April 30, at the Surrey Public Library (10350 University Drive); Monday, May 7, at Shannon Hall at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds (6050 176 Street); and Wednesday, May 23, at White Rock Community Centre (15154 Russell Avenue). The events run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. and refreshments will be provided.
The event is free, and no registration is required, but seating is limited. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.