Dee Taylor-John is celebrating their fifth anniversary of recovery from opioid use disorder by promoting education and support for those experiencing substance use challenges of their own.
“With, you know, opioid use disorder, there is just so much stigma about being able to get out of that situation and then to … lead a fulfilling life afterwards,” said Taylor-John, who advocates in the Brandon, Man., area.
“It’s just so surreal that it’s been five years.”
Substance use disorder is a broad experience unique to each individual, said Taylor-John, who uses the pronouns they and them.
They compared it to someone receiving a cancer diagnosis — there can be medical intervention and steps of treatment for patients, but every individual needs to navigate their own healing journey.
In Brandon, programs and resources include Seventh Street Access, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and the Brandon Friendship Centre.
Taylor-John cautioned healing is not a linear journey while in recovery. In their experience, there are different ways to seek help during recovery, especially when it comes to holistic healing.
They are currently planning Brandon’s third Recovery Day, to be held Sept. 3. The annual event started in 2018 and ran again in 2019, but was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
The event will feature local agencies, organizations and speakers that support recovery, along with a free barbecue.
WATCH | Dee Taylor-John speaks with Riley Laychuk on CBC Winnipeg News:
“Substance abuse disorder is just one of the aspects of mental health. And we really need to take care of ourselves in many of the ways,” Taylor-John said.
“Healing is not linear.… So, working within that space, learning to be gentle with yourself allows, you know, that healing to come in those steps,” they said. “It does it looks different for so many people.”
‘There’s a very toxic supply out there’
Harm reduction plays a major role in supporting community members experiencing a substance use disorder, said Brandon-based Solange Machado, network co-ordinator with the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network.
“It’s scary. There’s a very toxic supply out there. And, you know, people are having a hard time getting their hands on their substance of choice, which is leading people to try new substances and really just not being sure of the potency, she said.
When people are unaware of the potency of a drug there is an increased risk of overdosing, also referred to as toxic drug poisoning.
Last year, a record 407 Manitobans died from overdose due to illicit substances like fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, etizolam or a combination substances, according to data from the chief medical examiner.
That was a jump from 372 deaths in 2020 — which was a record number then.
The problem extends beyond Manitoba. Across Canada, there were more than 29,000 opioid toxicity deaths between January 2016 and December 2021, according to federal government data.
The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw 7,362 apparent opioid deaths reported across the country from April 2020 to March 2021, up from 3,747 over the same period a year earlier — a 96 per cent jump.
Harm reduction helps enable people to access resources, safe supplies and connections to keep them as safe as possible when engaging in substance use, Machado said. This can include access to smoking supplies and injection supplies, drug testing kits and naloxone kits.
A peer advisory council advises the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network on how to best understand and help those experiencing substance use disorder. The advisory council is made up of a group of people who have lived experience with substance use.
The council meets monthly to talk about the impact of current drugs in the community and needed substance use supports, along with promoting peer-to-peer education.
“Peers like would rather … learn from people they trust,” Machado said. “So doing that peer-to-peer education … especially around overdoses right now and naloxone training.”
A variety of treatment options need to be available for people beyond abstinence-only treatment options, she said. That can include supervised consumption sites and access to a safe supply of drugs.
“We need to just listen to … what people who use drugs are saying,” Machado said. “Abstinence-only programs … historically aren’t working for the peer group.”