LETTER: Harmful language hurting opioid discussion

January 30, 2018 - 8:58pm

Before we can help some of the more vulnerable citizens of Red Deer, we must first stop using hurtful and harmful language.

For example, referring to a group of individuals as "drug addicts" is outdated and perpetuates a negative stereotype.

Every single one of those people could be a daughter who was abused and is self-medicating because counselling is still too raw, a brother who was born into alcoholism and hasn't been able to stay on a meaningful break from their own spiral of self-destruction, a Mom whose addiction with pain killers is a daily battle which puts not only herself, but her children at risk, but is far too ashamed to ask for help. I've heard offhand remarks thrown out many times over the years about people experiencing homelessness and drug addiction:

"Why don't they just get a job?"

"There is so much help available to them already"

"They are happier living on the streets with no responsibilities"

What I hardly ever hear is anyone ask them what we can do to help provide a positive path to overcoming their mental health or addictions problems.

In an ideal world all of these citizens suffering from mental illnesses and addictions would be tucked into bed in treatment centres every night and awaken each morning to nurturing care and support. Until such a day, can we please stop referring to people as drug addicts, junkies, or users and can we please provide them with some meaningful health support at a supervised consumption site based on research and best practice? (Studies show this is not an Atco trailer on the already over-crowded hospital grounds, where many of the people requiring the services feel uncomfortable, anxious and looked down upon).

After working with and getting to know the stories of many of these individuals over the past few months, I assure you that none of them are happy and fulfilled in the situation they are in. No one sleeps outdoors in Alberta winter by choice.

Let's work together as a community and recognize the steps it takes to get these folks back to health and wellness and accept that part of that path starts with a safe place to be, with people they know and trust.

Devon Harknett, Red Deer

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