Joanne Moore and Ed Patterson are lifelong Comox Valley residents.
Joanne is a mother of six, and has 12 grandchildren.
Ed is a fourth-generation Cumberlander.
They are also addicts.
Joanne and Ed belong to a newly-formed group called Addicts and Allies Humanizing Addiction (AAHA).
They want people to understand that, although they are battling drug addiction, they can still contribute to society in a positive manner.
That’s what their group is all about.
“We are a local group of addicts who focus on harm reduction education, overdose prevention, and community clean-ups in an effort to humanize people who use substances and reduce stigma related to addiction,” said Ed. “We offer naloxone training, harm reduction education, and a culture of acceptance regardless of an individual’s life circumstances.”
“There are nine of us in the group. We are all either in rehab, or still using,” said Joanne. “We all have families and friends that we have lost to the opioid crisis.”
AAHA has hosted naloxone training sessions, and harm reduction education in both the Comox Valley and Campbell River. It operates under the guidance of AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI). The AAHA members spent Friday afternoon picking up biohazardous materials (i.e. used syringes) that have been left in the downtown parks, and other areas addicts are known to frequent, in Courtenay.
“Today we are doing a community clean-up in and around Simms Park, Vanier, the swimming pool, and along the trails near the curling rink,” said Moore.
“We are trying to make the area safer for people, their children, their dogs,” said Patterson. “All this stuff gets left behind by irresponsible addicts, and because we are addicts ourselves, we are taking it upon ourselves to go clean those things up.”
|These disposal receptacles contain approximately 110 used syringes, and other drug paraphernalia picked up by AAHA members during a community clean-up Friday, July 5. Photo submitted.|
Friday’s clean-up netted more than 100 used syringes, as well as other discarded paraphernalia.
When they aren’t doing such community clean-ups, they are working on the front line of the opioid crisis – addicts as outreach workers, helping other addicts stay as safe as possible.
The members are all trained in harm reduction. They visit many of what Patterson calls the “trap houses” in the Comox Valley – houses where addicts go, primarily to get high, or engage in other nefarious activities – and they see the crisis at its very core.
“We go to the houses where people are ODing,” said Patterson. “The stuff we see you’ll never hear about, because it isn’t reported, so there are no stats. The hospitals, Island Health, they don’t get the real stats. The one house I was at last month, there were like 20 overdoses, but nobody died, so there’s 20 overdoses that go unreported.”
Patterson said he knows of 18 to 20 such “trap houses” in the Comox Valley.
He said he has reversed 23 overdoses with naloxone. Moore does not keep track, but estimates she has saved that many addicts, if not more.
“There’s lots,” she said. “[I saved a] 12-year-old prostitute up by the train tracks. That’s sad. That’s really, really sad.”
They both said that while naloxone is saving lives, it is also becoming part of the problem.
“There’s an over-abundance of naloxone out there – people think they can use as much as they want and as long as there’s naloxone around… ‘somebody will save me,’” said Patterson.
“So there’s a good and a bad side to [naloxone],” said Moore.
If you or someone you know is interested in naloxone training and/or harm reduction education, you can call the AAHA hotline (778-992-0771) to leave a message for the AAHA group. If someone is in need of an outreach worker, they are urged to call the number as well.
“We are out there, the nine of us, we all carry clean supplies at all times, we will respond, stay with you if you are using, so you aren’t alone. We all carry naloxone kits at all times,” said Moore. “We want to keep our community as safe as possible, and with us being out there, it’s getting a little safer every day.
“A lot of these people don’t feel they have anybody. But talking to somebody that’s right on the same level as them, which is all of us [in AAHA], it makes it so much easier. I can go right into the houses and not be a threat to them… they know I am not bringing in the cops.”
The AAHA group will be at summer events including an education table at the Courtenay Wednesday Night Markets on July 31 and Aug. 28 from 4-8 p.m.