Researcher wants to change the way Canadians talk about drugs

  • Mar. 20, 2018 10:30 a.m.
(Black Press file photo)
While searching the term, ‘addiction,’ Johnson said she found some “really obscene images” addiction. (Image by BLUE ORANGE ASIA)

While there are no easy answers when it comes to solving British Columbia’s opioid crisis — renowned researcher Cheyenne Johnson says much can be done to improve the situation if we’re willing to change our approach.

Johnson, who is the Director of Clinical Activities and Development at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse, spoke candidly on the subject during a recent lecture she gave at Okanagan College in Vernon, entitled Beyond opioids: the overdose crisis—how did we get here?

“We’re in a crisis that is not being treated like one,” Johnson told the audience of nearly 100.

Since 2016, she said there have been a total of almost 2,200 overdose deaths. In 2017 alone, she added, there were over 1,200 confirmed overdose deaths.

In her 1.5-hour talk, the North Okanagan-raised researcher stressed that shifting attitudes toward addiction, recovery and policy reform are the key to progress.

Citing Portugal’s approach to drug policy as a key example, Johnson said during the 1980s and 90s, the European country was ravaged by a heroin epidemic that affected approximately one per cent of the country’s entire population.

In 2001 Portugal became the first country to decriminalize the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that were available to them.

Over time, according to the 2016 United Nations World Drug report, the drug crisis in Portugal stabilized to the point where they have the one of the lowest fatal overdose rates in the world.

While deemed a radical approach by some, Johnson said Portugal’s multi-faceted model is gaining popularity among Canada’s health professionals, and argues that a similar change could be critical to making headway in the opioid crisis in Canada.

Policy changes, she added, need to go hand in hand with changing the culture of a country towards drug use.

“What decriminalization did in Portugal was allow people to come out of the shadows and seek help,” she said.

Ultimately, she explained, it was part of a much broader strategy that includes changing the language we use when talking about addiction.

Research, she said, has found that people with substance use disorders are viewed more negatively than people with other mental illness or physical illness and the language we use about addiction can contribute to the stigma.

“As a society in the way that we talk about addiction and substance abuse, we kind of use it colloquially and joke about it sometimes,” she said.

Referencing her own Instagram feed, Johnson said she searched the term “addiction” and found 52 different hashtags related to it.

“I found things like ‘addicted to coupons’ or ‘addicted to selfies’ or ‘addicted to shopping.’ There were, in my opinion, some really obscene images surrounding people being addicted to fashion or addicted to a certain label.”

It’s not only the term, addiction, Johnson said, it’s also the casual use of harmful terms like ‘druggie’ or ‘junkie,’ that’s prevalent in the way we talk about people that over use drugs.

In regard to tackling B.C.’s ongoing crisis, Johnson stressed the importance of “having more tools in our collective tool kit,” supporting people at risk of overdose, addressing the unsafe drug supply, expanding harm reduction services and increasing the availability of naloxone.

Building safe injection sites, she added, is in “irrefutable” necessity.

While there are currently no safe injection sites in Vernon, Interior Health announced last month that they would be launching Community Action Teams (CATS) who will be tasked with spearheading local coordination and communication to respond to the needs of those most at risk of overdose.

Erin Christie

Morning Star Staff


@VernonNews
erin.christie@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

North Okanagan salmon expert supports calls for change in salmon management

A North Okanagan salmon expert supports the Federation’s call to move away from net fishing

Coalition talk at Okanagan College candidates forum

Vernon Students’ Association hosts forum to discuss important youth issues, minority government

Vernon porta-potties reinstalment flushed

Portable washroom in Linear Park vetoed by council after learning of threats with needles, vandalism

Vernon overdose prevention site needed: mother

Sandra Welton asks for update on planned site she believes would have saved her late daughter

4 arrests, 6 pounds of drugs and $30,000 seized: Vernon RCMP

Suspected drug traffickers believed to supply Vernon, Enderby and Revelstoke

VIDEO: Shuswap resident’s yard becomes nighttime thoroughfare for grizzlies

Malakwa man has captured images of 12 different grizzlies on video

Fire response at Trans Mountain Burnaby tank farm could take six hours: audit

Site doesn’t have mutual aid response agreement with Burnaby fire department

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

ICBC willing to loosen grip on driver claim data, David Eby says

Private insurers say claims record monopoly keeps them out

Sad time for City of Salmon Arm gardeners as more than 300 hanging baskets come down

Municipal crews busy preparing for change of season as flowers die off

B.C. principal suspended for failing to help student who reported inappropriate touching

Principal didn’t remove student from the teacher’s class nor call the parents within a reasonable time

Illegal buoys to be removed from Shuswap, Mara lakes

Transport Canada enforcement action to occur Oct. 21 to 25

Port Moody mayor goes back on unpaid leave during sex assault investigation

Rob Vagramov said he intends to return as mayor in three or four weeks

Most Read