My job gives me the privilege of working with young people who have experienced more trauma and pain than one person should in a lifetime. They are also some of the most resilient, resourceful and compassionate people that I know. While at work, I responded to someone overdosing. For whatever reason, the universe put us in the same hallway at the same time so that I could notice he was turning purple and call 911. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a naloxone kit. While waiting for the ambulance he went unconscious. I put my hands on his chest to start compressions. I can vividly remember the feeling of his heart beating underneath my hands. I was connected so intensely to his humanity – to every experience of pain and love and joy and suffering that led him to that moment. These emotions are what weave our experience of humanity together.
I’ve struggled with my own substance use for a few years. I started getting black-out drunk a few times a week in second-year university which is normalized among university students. When drinking wasn’t enough to fill the void, I turned to MDMA and coke to make me feel good (until it didn’t), Adderal and Vyvanse to help me maintain my 90 average, and pot to help me sleep. I used drugs because I couldn’t accept what I was experiencing. We all do this. We drink coffee to help us get through the day, have a drink to help us unwind, eat to numb the pain, scroll through Instagram when we’re feeling anxious. As human beings, our instinct is to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
We are bound by the experiences of discomfort, loneliness, suffering, loss, the kind of sadness that makes living seem too hard. What separates us is class.
I am a middle-class white woman. I have a family that cares about me, the status of being university educated, and a home to use my drugs in. People in poverty are inherently more visible and have less resources to manage their substance use. The reason I was kneeling above someone performing CPR instead of lying on the ground beside them is because the harms associated with using drugs are disproportionately experienced by people in poverty.
Certain downtown businesses have created and perpetuated the narrative that downtown is unsafe because of panhandlers and drug users. In an article published by Arthur in October 2017 DBIA president, Terry Guiel, emphasized that “the Downtown Business Improvement Association is not an expert in issues regarding social services but have had such issues thrust upon them by default.” In reference to the proposed overdose prevention site, Manager of Home Hardware, Valerie Hubbeard, more explicitly states her disgust with members of the community. In an article published by MyKwartha she states, “do not ruin our downtown more than it is now…we have enough shit down here”. Business owners are portraying themselves as victims of the effects of poverty and proposing ‘beautification’ (read: exclusion) as the remedy.
Instead of excluding people from downtown, understand how they are mirrors for our common experience of pain and suffering. See them. Hear them. Be with them. Recognize the ways in which your social position has afforded you the privilege and protection of a safe home. A safe place to escape pain, whatever that looks like for you.
So no, Peterborough does not “draw drug use to our community because we promote it.” People use drugs. Some people are able to use drugs in a way that is less harmful. Recognizing this, it is our obligation to provide what is necessary for people to use as safely as possible. That is harm reduction.