People are not junk

Christopher Smorenburg of Oakville plays an instrumental piece during the International Overdose Awareness Day gathering on Saturday August 31, 2019 in Delhi. Brian Thompson / Brian Thompson/The Expositor Ashley McCluskey shared her story of recovery in front of about 40 people who gathered Saturday afternoon in Delhi for International Overdose Awareness Day – Haldimand-Norfolk.McCluskey said she wanted to lend her voice in the hopes that people “would see the opioid crisis as a health issue as opposed to a moral deficiency.”The 29-year-old mother of three from Walsingham is a member of Resilient Women’s Recovery, a grassroots group whose aim is to support long-term recovery and prevent overdose. RWR helped organize the event in Quance Park adjacent to the Delhi museum.McCluskey described herself as a mother, partner, daughter, friend and community member.“These are labels that define me. Addict is not,” she said. “It sickens me when I hear people use terms like crack head, drunk and junkie. People are not junk.”McCluskey said that kind of language drives the stigma that prevents people with mental health and substance use disorders from having the courage to reach out for the life-saving help they need.Complications following the birth of her first child resulted in a prescription for painkillers that became a dependency. McCluskey’s desire to stop taking opiates originated when she became pregnant again, and feared her unborn child would be harmed.Methadone maintenance therapy was begun at a clinic in Guelph where she lived before moving to Norfolk. Treatment continued locally, where a clinic counsellor suggested she join a few other women to start a recovery group for women.“I’m lucky to have the Resilient Women’s Recovery group to support my long-term recovery,” McCluskey said. “I am lucky to be alive and clean.”Tamara Robb, a public health nurse with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, told the crowd that 13 people from the community died in an 18-month period from April 2017 to December 2018. Robb said they were all accidental overdoses in private homes, adding that Naloxone kits were given in only 25 per cent of those incidents. “Our goal is to reduce overdoses in our community and provide education on how to reduce overdose risks,” Robb said, adding that providing Naloxone kits, safer injection equipment and encouraging single-use of needles helps to reduce the risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis-C.“Don’t use alone,” Robb told those in attendance, encouraging people to know the signs of overdose and call 9-1-1. Robb reminded people of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act that provides some protection against certain charges when people call 9-1-1 regarding an overdose.Michelle Demelo made the drive from Oakville to attend Saturday’s event in Delhi.“It’s a super important event to me to come to these events,” Demelo said, citing the loss of her sister to a suicide overdose.As she walked through an art installation of purple and white balloons attached to pairs of shoes, representing the number of overdose deaths in Ontario over a four-month period in 2018, Demelo said people incorrectly think of overdose as a moral thing.“It’s a true health concern, not a choice necessarily,” she said. “I’ve been to more funerals than weddings, and I’m only 24.bethompson@postmedia.com@EXPbthompson

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