Below are past articles previously published in Drugs & Addiction Magazine. These are filled with current and relevant information and statistics and can be used as great conversation starters with youth.
New book looks at the heart of Edmonton’s opioid epidemic through stories and artJanuary 11, 2019
By OMAR MOSLEH StarMetro Edmonton Thu., Jan. 10, 2019
EDMONTON—To Larry Anderson, the poppy flower is a double-edged sword. While on one hand, it represents the valour of fallen soldiers, it’s also responsible for the anguish of thousands of Edmontonians who find themselves in the grips of an opioid addiction.
But unlike veterans who die in war, few remember those who lose their lives to drugs, Anderson says.
“Opioids serve a purpose. They were created and designed to heal pain. But because they’re so powerful, they become addictive,” Anderson says while reflecting on his poem, My Poppy, featured in a new book by the Bissell Centre focused on raising awareness about the effects of the opioid epidemic on Edmonton’s inner city.
“The people who are in chronic pain, they didn’t do anything to get that way. You can’t blame them for being in pain. So the opioids on that side help them. On the other side, they hurt them.”
Anderson’s poem is featured along dozens of others in Cycles & Circles, a compilation of stories, poetry and art about addiction created by the Bissell Centre in collaboration with clients, local artists and authors.
In addition to raising awareness about the opioid crisis and destigmatizing addiction, the book puts a strong emphasis on harm reduction, and includes a resources section providing information on supervised consumption sites, how to access and use naloxone kits, needle exchange services, and more.
Kaitlyn Beaton, Bissell Centre’s director of community programs, said the organization saw a need to highlight how the opioid crisis was afflicting the inner city due to the sheer prevalence of opioid overdoses on site and the increased number of people they see facing substance use disorders.
“I would say over the last five or so years, we have seen a real change in the inner city around addiction with opioids … A decade ago, I had barely even heard of fentanyl. Now it’s like you can’t go through the day without talking about it,” she said.
But instead of presenting the opioid crisis in stark numbers, they aim to present a more compassionate view of addiction through stories and art.
“I think the book, to me, really highlights the humanness of it, and really I would say the addictions, whether it’s opioids or some other substance, it really comes down to the experience of pain. And that’s a common ground any human can relate to,” Beaton said.
“For us, it was really about how do we give an outlet to express the pain, but also the great beauty and triumph they have faced in their lives?”
Pain and triumph is something Mary-Jo Dion knows well. She has battled alcoholism throughout her life and kicked a heroin addiction in 2013.
Through her three pieces of art accompanied by words in the book, she chronicles her lifelong struggle and what it took for her to get to where she is today.
She remembers the days she would spend numbing her emotions with a bottle in Edmonton’s alleys, until a brush with death forced her to get her life in order.
“It took a drastic part of me to admit I was defeated because I just about froze to death one day,” Dion says while putting the final touches on a dreamcatcher she is making.
“I had to change. I lost everything. I lost my self worth, I lost my kids, I had nothing. I woke up with an empty heart, empty pockets … I had to get out of that lifestyle,” she said.
With the help of faith in a higher power, a 12-step program, friends, family and organizations like the Bissell Centre, she’s now been sober for over a year and has no intentions of looking back.
“In that book, I wrote about my addiction … and I fulfilled my destiny kind of thing. I can say, ‘Hey, I’ve done it.’ I don’t need to cry anymore, I’m happy. I don’t need to be drunk. I can be me.”
She said she chose to participate in the book because she wanted to tell her story, but also because she wants to show others facing addiction that there’s always hope.
“We didn’t have to do this. But I had to be heard. I wanted people to know the struggles and the destruction my life had went through. And how I changed it, and how people helped me change it,” Dion said.
Anderson, who helps facilitate a poetry workshop at Bissell Centre, has also battled addiction. He compares his contributions to the book to a candle that helps illuminate the disorder people in the inner city are facing.
“We can shed light on misconceptions, biases, prejudices and all those things we don’t typically think about. And especially down here, because there’s so many stereotypes about us. You’re down here because you’re stupid, you’re lazy, all these kinds of negative things. And people down here have all kinds of reasons for being here,” Anderson said.
What brings those people together is the emotional, spiritual and physical pain they have endured. He hopes to encourage more individuals to channel those emotions into art, in order to inspire others.
“There’s so much raw talent here, whether it’s in the opioid book, or in general … My intent is to discover, encourage, promote and publish unknown authors,” he said.
Beaton said the Bissell Centre also recognized the need to shine a light on the immense talent that exists in the inner city.
“I wanted to showcase it in a way that really honoured them, but also because people in our community don’t get a lot of recognition for the art that they do,” Beaton said.
“It feels really special. That’s how we see the people we work with and we wanted something they could be proud of as well.”
For Dion, the obstacles she has faced are just one chapter in her life. But she hopes that by sharing her struggles, she can ultimately help others overcome their challenges with addiction.
“That books tells you the feelings. The drawings and paintings, the wording itself, it doesn’t come easily,” Dion said.
“This book will be here after we’re gone. But I hope people will read this and read it kindly. And think, not from the mind, but from the heart. Because what’s in there might help you — it might change you.”
The Bissell Centre will be holding a book launch for Cycles & Circles at its west building on Jan. 18 from noon to 2 p.m.