By Letter to the Editor on February 11, 2020.
Alberta is in a state of crisis when mainstream media outlets give journalists like Rick Bell the space to spread ignorance and hate speech against people experiencing extreme socio-economic adversity and substance use disorders, whom he tactfully and professionally refers to as meth head zombies. Besides spreading the type of hatred and fear mongering that compounds the discrimination and marginalization these folks face, he also vilifies the tireless work of advocates who are far more educated and experienced to discuss these issues than he implies to be.
People develop substance use disorders for many different reasons. Some are high functioning and manage to maintain families and employment while stigma and shame keep their addictions secret. Another large subset of folks living with addiction experience a wide range of socio-economic hardships that have contributed to the development of their disorder. These are the folks that are most likely to be seen on the streets, and most likely to use supervised consumption services.
While Bell attempts to moralistically paint people with substance use disorder as worthless and less than human, he neglects to acknowledge the factors that are associated with the development of this disorder including genetics, brain development and brain based disorders, adverse childhood experiences such as involvement in foster care, abuse, neglect, loss of caregivers and loss of traditional culture, poverty, trauma, homelessness, lack of education and lack of employment opportunities, mental health disorders, the ongoing colonization and discrimination towards our Indigenous peoples and, most importantly, stigma. While there is initially a choice to use substances, when there are more risk factors than protective factors, there is a much higher chance someone will develop an addiction. These are facts that are bravely stated in a traditionally conservative province, not the ramblings of a self-righteous bleeding heart.
If you or those you know are tempted to succumb to Bell’s hate speech and fear mongering, I implore you seek out the research and evidence that shows that harm reduction and supervised consumption services save lives and serve as a bridge to further treatment and supports. It is not hard to see that providing these folks with health care and dignity will go a lot further than promoting stigma and discrimination. We need to advocate for more supports, not less. Come on Alberta, show the world who you are.
(The writer is a Hat Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) and Moms Stop the Harm advocate)
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