Solving a problem begins with understanding it.
Nowhere does that ring more true than the current overdose crisis.
“Who can understand the problems and pains of addiction better than those affected? They know how they feel and what they need to heal. We don’t, and all of our put-downs don’t help,” reflects Marilyn, whose son lives with addiction and mental illness.
The additional insight provided by those who’ve lived with someone dealing with addiction can also provide “a better understanding of what might work and what definitely will not. We’re also more inclined to search for what’s working in other communities or other countries,” reflects Marilyn, a person with lived experience (PWLE) on Alberni’s Community Action Team (CAT), who first became involved with the CAT to begin learning.
CATs spearhead local co-ordination and communication to respond to the needs of those most at risk of overdose in their communities. Participation of Persons with Lived Experience (PWLE) is a big part of that.
“I know now, only he can help himself but have learned what things may trigger success and what may trigger a relapse,” Marilyn says. “When I learned about ideas that might help, I wanted to share them with others. If I cannot help my son, perhaps I can help someone else. Perhaps someone else can guide him in the right direction.”
Experience is vital to the solution
The involvement of PWLE is a core tenet of harm reduction as a way to improve linkage, engagement and retention in care and mental health services and programs, explains Mark Lacroix, Port Alberni CAT co-ordinator.
“Their involvement provides insights into the realities of substance use and at-risk environments and input into policies and practices to ensure relevance and effectiveness, and enhances the ability to navigate hard-to-reach places and communities,” Lacroix says.
For PWLE CAT member Ryan Leboe, involvement was an important way to help reduce the stigma about substance abuse and break down barriers that may hold users hostage, such as accessing services and housing.
“I feel PWLE it’s a vital piece to the puzzle in reducing stigma surrounding substance abuse and harm reduction. I feel we’ve been stuck in the Dark Ages and by bringing in PWLE we can shine a new light and brighten the hopes of the mothers, the fathers the brothers and the sisters affected by substance abuse. Substance use has no boundaries and therefore we need to come together. Having PWLE part of the team brings a whole new element the table.”
How you can get involved
Community members are invited to engage with the Alberni Valley’s Community Action Team and its newest PWLE members from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 27 at Char’s Landing. The team will screen the film Painkiller: Inside the Opioid Crisis and welcome questions and conversation.
Says Marilyn, “I try to smile at anyone I see who looks dejected or lost and say a friendly word or two. I vividly remember hearing that such a greeting caused one young man to go for help rather than commit suicide. It’s an easy thing to do. Smile. It’s a little step but it might make a difference.”