Community Overdose Prevention Training at Faith/Void (894 College), Saturday (December 17), 2 pm. Pwyc. RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a rapidly growing opiate overdose crisis in Canada, and the usual “war on drugs” strategies have only exacerbated the problem. Toronto’s punk community is trying to do something about it through an overdose prevention training workshop facilitated by harm reduction worker Zoë Dodd and organized by Marjie Francis, both members of the local hardcore community.
“In Canada we’ve had a 327 per cent increase in overdose deaths since 2008 and very little coordinated response or efforts from almost all levels of government to address the situation,” explains Dodd. “In the music and arts communities, we’ve lost a lot of people to overdose deaths that were preventable.”
In addition to response training, the workshop provides access to naloxone, a fast-acting antidote for opiate overdoses. Access to the life-saving drug has been greatly improved, but there is still a dearth of training and information. The idea of music community workshops came out of this year’s Not Dead Yet festival and has now spread to other Canadian cities.
One of the key workshop components has been addressing the stigma around drug use, which can undermine harm-reduction efforts. The workshops are meant to be a non-judgmental space where users and their friends can feel comfortable.
“Going to a pharmacy to get a naloxone kit can be a stigmatizing experience for someone who might be picking it up for themselves or their friends,” says Dodd. “In the workshops, we’ve been talking about stigma and shame because those create vulnerabilities in drug users’ lives. It’s a big cause of why people might be using alone.”
While the workshop focuses on the punk community, the opiate issue is by no means unique to that scene. Venue owners and event organizers have also expressed interest in getting training. Having a naloxone kit on hand and knowing how to administer it can mean the difference between life and death, often buying just enough time for paramedics to respond.
“There has been a huge response [to the workshop], and it looks like we may have to do a few more. Frontline workers and a lot of agencies are also not trained, and they’re responding to overdoses every day. There just aren’t enough workers in the city to be training people, and there isn’t any funding or extra resources to do it. Instead [of investing in that area], the province is looking at prescribing practices and delisting high doses of opiates for people on disability or welfare.”
Given the punk scene’s emphasis on DIY culture, it’s not surprising that this kind of grassroots response is emerging. With powerful synthetic opiates like fentanyl spreading across the country, the crisis is only getting worse. The government and police have stepped up efforts to prevent prescription painkillers from being diverted to the black market but that’s only made heroin and bootleg synthetic opiates more popular.
“People are using drugs, and people are dying,” Dodd says. “We need to think of new responses because the drug war isn’t working and it’s costing thousands of lives. In the meantime we need to take it upon ourselves. We need to flood the streets with naloxone and correct information, just like when they flooded the streets with needles to reduce transmission of HIV amongst injection drug users during the AIDS crisis.”