A joint message from Interim Chief Executive Officer, Richard Jock; and Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer.
It's National Addictions Awareness Week, and this year's theme, “Change begins with me," focuses on what we as individuals can do to support people who are experiencing addiction. This is more important now than ever. As a result of the pandemic, more people – including Indigenous people – may be turning to substances to cope: the BC Coroners' Service reports that from March 2020 to September 2020, overdose-related deaths increased by 55 per cent compared to the same seven-month span in 2019 (589 deaths compared to 1048).
At the First Nations Health Authority, we stress the importance of practising lateral kindness as a way to support others, and meeting people where they're at. Within the context of substance use, this includes being mindful of the way we think, speak and act towards people who use substances. We know that shaming, blaming, and stigmatizing people not only doesn't help, it harms. In other words, being kind can actually save lives!
Given this, let's work together to end the stigma around addictions and people who use substances. Here are some ways to do that.
Put the person first, not the addiction.
We can start by using person-first language that acknowledges someone as a person before describing the person's attributes or health conditions. Here are two examples:
• Instead of “addict," think/say “person with a substance use disorder" or “person experiencing addiction."• Instead of “druggie" or “junkie," think/say “person who uses substances."
• Instead of “addict," think/say “person with a substance use disorder" or “person experiencing addiction."
• Instead of “druggie" or “junkie," think/say “person who uses substances."
We can be empathic and caring, recognizing each person's value as a human being, instead of dehumanizing people by defining them by their illness or health condition – when they are so much more than that. Sometimes, the most challenging part about changing attitudes as a community is inviting family and friends to reflect on the stigmatizing language they use.
Please see this resource on destigmatizing language from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Words matter!
Meet people where they're at on their healing journey.
Life can be difficult, and most journeys are not linear. There are plenty of twists and turns and ups and downs before we get to our destination! We may want our loved one to reduce or stop using substances including alcohol, but this may not align with what they want or need or can manage at this time. The choice to stop or reduce substance use is solely up to the individual, so we must use compassion in offering solutions and support.
We can create a safer space for our loved ones to feel safe to talk about their experiences with substance use – without facing judgment or shame. Having a strong support system will strengthen our loved one's healing and wellness journey.
When meeting people where they're at, be sure to determine through self-reflection if you are really the person to have these conversations or if someone else would be more helpful. When it's the right time, connecting our loved ones with a health professional is important.
Get informed and educated about addiction.
Accessing reliable and current information is important to supporting our loved ones. Beginning the conversation about substance use can be difficult, but it's a crucial first step. There is no perfect formula for these conversations. The FNHA has created some resources to help you:
• Talk about substance use• Learn about the myths of addiction• Learn about harm reduction
• Talk about substance use
• Learn about the myths of addiction
• Learn about harm reduction
During National Addictions Awareness Week 2020, we will be sharing more messages about what we can do as individuals to support people with addictions, including the importance of using Indigenous culture and traditions to draw on our intergenerational strength and resilience.
Please take good care of yourself and others this week and beyond!
Check out the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation website for information on programs and services for substance use and addiction. Also, more information and support networks can be found at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction website.
Culturally safe help is available for crisis-response services through KUU-US at 1-800-588-8717.
You can access culturally safe care through the FNHA's Virtual Substance Use and Psychiatry Service, which provides BC First Nations people and their family members (even if non-Indigenous) with access to specialists in addictions medicine and psychiatry.