Addiction impacts everyone," says Lauren Casey, National Coordinator for the Canadian National Coalition of Experiential Women and a former drug user. "I know many mainstream folk who have, at some time, come across the issue in their own families."
Casey was one of the community respondents at the second Voices of Substance community dialogue, Approaches to Substance Use in Victoria, which took place last Wednesday at the Central Baptist Church on Pandora Street.
Voices of Substance is a group of concerned citizens committed to fostering public dialogue and collaborative action on substance-related issues in Victoria. The first annual community dialogue--a day-long event held in June, 2006--provided a general introduction to the issues; this year, the discussion focused specifically on Victoria.
The event was attended by about 120 people from a cross-section of the community, including people from local social service agencies, family and friends of drug users, policy makers, concerned citizens and former and current drug users.
Mike Peck, a founding member of the Society of Living Intravenous Drug Users and a street outreach worker, says the voices of experiential people--those who struggle or have struggled with substance addiction--are integral to solution-focused discussions. "Having people who understand the whole problem of addiction and what is required to overcome it gives us an understanding of where we need to go," says Peck.
The evening's keynote speaker was Dr. Benedikt Fischer, a researcher at the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia. Fischer presented data on trends in illicit substance use in Victoria and discussed the CARBC feasability study on supervised consumption sites commissioned by the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the City of Victoria. His presentation was followed by community respondents from indigenous, gendered and substance user perspectives.
After the presentations, a community discussion was set up using an approach called "open space." Connie Carter, a drug policy researcher and member of Voices of Substance, describes open space as "democracy and chaos in action."
"We used it to see if we could increase participation and to let the participants decide what they wanted to talk about," says Carter. A moderator asked the participants to identify topics related to the presentations around which discussion groups were formed. "It's kind of a jam session for policy and community development," says Carter. "We got a sense of what people's concerns were across a range of issues and came away with a lot of good information."
"A big concern for people is the treatment system--both having adequate treatment support and support for afterwards," says Carter. According to VIHA's feasability study, there are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 injection drug users and 500 to 800 crystal methamphetamine users in Victoria. With only seven adult beds for alcohol and drug detox and another 10 for stabilization--where you can go after detox if you are not ready to go home--participants agree that Victoria isn't giving addicts the support they need.
"The window of opportunity is not large," says Carter. "If a person can't get in to detox they can disappear back to the street." The discussion group on treatment systems identified the need for more flexible treatment and more support services for after detox including housing and counselling.
The discussions also resulted in what Carter calls "pledges of action." In the fall, Voices of Substance hopes to sponsor a meeting of family and friends of drug users in an effort to create a group like From Grief to Action in Vancouver who support and advocate for drug users and their families and friends.
Voices of Substance plans to compile the results of the evening's discussions into a report they hope will give key policy makers an idea of the community's concerns.
During his presentation, Fischer talked about a divide between the people who are affected by substance abuse and those who make decisions. "Communities need to take it into their own hands to do things to alleviate problems," he said. "Do not expect this to happen from the federal levels. Communities have to act and law and policy will follow."
"We have close to 2000 overdose deaths in Canada each year and many thousands of hep C and HIV infections," noted Fischer. "It's a human rights issue as much as health and safety issue."