Airdronian Shawna Taylor who runs a local support group that specializes in supporting family and friends of those whose loved ones who are dealing with substance use, attended Airdrie's Overdose Awareness Day on August 31 at Nose Creek Park. Taylor said that the goal of the day and a personal goal for her was not only to educate the public on substance use and addictions but also to offer help to those who are still in the midst of their own struggle with substance use.
"I want people to understand that there are five to seven people dying every single day in Alberta from drug poisoning, and not overdose poisoning; they're not just people who have addictions," she said. "Everybody says drugs are bad or don't do drugs and ideally, of course, in a perfect world, that's what we would like to do. But we also are trying to educate people that people are not ready to stop, there are alternatives and there are safer ways to go about this."
Taylor, whose own daughter has been dealing with substance use for the past several years, said that she wants all those who are both directly and indirectly affected by substance use to know that there is support, even though it can be both terrifying and confusing.
"I really recommend if you do know somebody who uses, try to have conversations with them. Don't shame them or question why they can't stop or why they can't get better."
Taylor said that using phrases like "getting clean" is ultimately incredibly harmful as it implies an individual who is dealing with substance use would be considered dirty.
"If they do reach out to you, I'm not asking you to send them money or go pick them up from jail or anything like that, but just say, 'I love you. I don't like where you're at this point in your life, but I love you, and I will always love you,'" she said. "I believe that if people who use drugs and know that they can come to family or come to friends or come to somebody, things will start to get better."
Though Taylor said she was disappointed by the small turnout for Airdrie's Overdose Awareness Day, she reiterated that all those who came together to put on the event, have a common goal in mind.
"I just want people to know on a day like this that yes, so many people have lost loved ones and it is tragic. But there are so many more still going through it and we don't want to become those numbers."
Among those who vocally supported the event was Airdrie City Councillor Heather Spearman, who wrote on her social media that she wants to see the city continue in supporting causes like this.
"Airdrie, please support this cause. Please share in the learning available to help ease the burden that overdose and mental illness put on local families and individuals. Be there for those with addiction. Know the local resources. It’s 2022 and asking for help is celebrated. Ending the stigma saves lives," she wrote.
Taylor reflected that while much of the focus of substance use can often zone in on the overdose and drug poisoning deaths, it is important to consciously remember that those who are alive and continuing their battle with substance use disorders need support, and so do their families.
"In the years that I've been doing advocacy, I have tried to listen to what [people's] fears are, especially family members or friends. Because the people who use drugs, they have a community amongst themselves. But so many of us who have never tried drugs, we have nowhere to turn and it's terrifying," she said. "Then when my family decided to go public, I couldn't believe how many other people were in the same position as myself and I thought: we're not alone."
Send your news tips, story ideas, pictures, and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org