As of June of this year, the public health agency of Canada has concluded that nearly 2,500 Canadians had died of an opioid drug related overdose in 2016. The death rate, says the report, is nearly nine people in 100,000. That’s less than a 10th of a per cent. It seems like such a small number. Is it really something we need to worry about?
The opioid crisis is not about numbers. It’s about people. The thing is, anyone can become a drug addict. It’s not restricted to any particular group of people, any socio-economic status, any sex, gender or orientation. This affects us all.
My dad was a drug user. When I was a kid I remember him being a productive person with his own business, trying to make the best of things with his family. As I got older his addiction became more of a struggle. He changed from suburban dad to something else and then suddenly he wasn’t around anymore. He had never been perfect, but that doesn’t make the story any less sad. He stole from us, he lied to us, all because he had a disease he couldn’t control. As a teenager I didn’t’ understand that. I thought what everybody seems to think: using drugs is a choice you make and stopping is as simple as deciding to. However, nothing about drug addiction is simple. I did my best to cut him out of my life.
By the time of his death around this time last year, my dad was estranged from the family, divorced from my mom, had little to no contact with any of his old friends, and was living in a rooming house here in St. Catharines. His health was not great and he had very little money or support. As far as I know he didn’t have a job and was living on disability support payments. I hadn’t spoken to him in quite a while.
My mom called me in tears. Someone, apparently another boarder at my dad’s house, had contacted my sister to say that dad was gone. It had taken four days after finding him for anyone to get in touch with us, and he had been dead for a while before that. I called the local police for information and it was confirmed. My dad was dead. I told the police officer I spoke with that it was okay for him to be blunt. He was talking around the subject, attempting to protect me in case I didn’t know the type of things my dad had got up to. It was strongly suspected that the cause of his death was a drug overdose. The autopsy confirm as much.
I thought I wouldn’t be shocked when I got that phone call. I always said the only reason I’d be at my dad’s funeral was to make sure he wasn’t lying about it. That wasn’t the case. His funeral was a gathering of the guilty, of people who realized only too late that they might have been able to help. In death he became a person to us again, instead of just another statistic.
I am not the first person to lose a parent to drug addiction. My nephew is not the first to lose his grandfather. My grandmother is not the first to lose her son. We won’t be the last either. Until we as a society stop seeing drug users as bad people and start seeing them as people with a disease that needs treatment and support this will keep happening. We will keep losing people. Lives will continue to be ruined.