Shanell Twan from AAWEAR Speaking at International Overdose Awareness Day in Edmonton

August 31, 2017

Tansi…Hello and Good afternoon,

I would like to start first and foremost by acknowledging that we are gathering here today on treaty 6 territory on which out of respect for the land and its people must be honored and respected.

For those of you who don’t know me my name is Shanell Twan I am a proud member of AAWEAR [Alberta Addicts Who Educate And Advocate Responsibily] which is one of the co- host Organizations for today’s event.

We are Gathered here today FOR International Overdose Awareness day and to Acknowledge That We fight for those we love and have lost. The harms being caused by the war on drugs can no longer be ignored – so we are calling for more humane drug policies that support, and don’t punish, people who use substances. It is time to leave behind the harmful politics, ideologies and prejudices – and prioritize the health and welfare of those affected. I am here today as a concerned Albertan and an indigenous woman who values the recent truth and reconciliation events that happened across our country. I believe it is time for us to reconcile with the truth and i feel that one of my truths is that as indigenous people we are often overrepresented in a variety of systems: the legal and justice systems, health care, and social service systems.

I find it disheartening that substance use has long been viewed as a criminal and moral issue rather than a health issue. In reality, it is an unpleasant fact that has touched many families. Mine included. I feel it is here that a tectonic shift must take place…treating someone who uses substances must be seen as a bonified health issue.

Because I currently see a disconnect between all systems with class and race often playing a role in how we view substance use or addiction. I feel that people who use substances should be viewed as just that people rather than offenders. Law enforcement and public health should have the same goal of wanting people to do good and stay alive to make a different choice on another day.

We are desperately in need of supervised injection services to help decrease the high number of overdoses we are seeing in communities across our country. When substances are used inside of a health setting and substance use becomes decriminalized people then come into contact with nurses, social and peer support workers that are there to provide them with voluntary drug tapering strategies, education, advocacy, health and social interventions available to them if they so choose. I see a valuable opportunity for us to take a stand on the forefront of this overdose crisis, and provide people using substances with services that will prevent further loss of life due to overdose. Because as it was said in Ottawa at the Canadian drug future forum: ’’the drug supply in Canada has gone toxic’’!

We should all know by now that we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. We know that mental health factors contribute to substance use and that mental health sufferers are twice as likely to use substances that being said i feel that we need to look around the country and maybe even the world to see what’s working well and look at applying some of those ideas here and now (coughs-like Portugal’s model). Because the death toll rise in spite of current actions and at best a glacial pace is what things seem to be moving forward at. What evidence based things can we look too… where other interventions have failed heroin assisted therapy has had great successes Portugal even greater successes.

At ungass2016- 22 governments from around the world advocated for all drug decriminalization here is a small part of a statement from the idpc- international drug policy consortium-…” the gold standard of decriminalization is the removal of all punishment for drug use and the provision of voluntary health and social services ’’the sad reality is our current drug laws and policies have failed us. I believe herein lies an opportunity for us to show some leadership.

We need to show good models and then scale them up building an evidence base that demonstrates what works safely and effectively to save lives …because the government doesn’t hold all the answers and neither do we. This is why evidence must form the basis of all policies in place. I feel that we are at a crossroads where I think we must acquire the knowledge to build upon societal support to expand upon these services.

I urge you to push pass ideology, prejudice, and fear to step up to help our citizens. Let’s roll up sleeve take bold steps and help people, so no more families have to lose a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a sister or brother. Or in my family’s case an aunt and two cousins.

We need our governments to make evidence based decisions when it comes to drug policies. We need progressive evidence based policies. We need you to take the ideology out of it and only make evidence based decisions. I do believe we need an integrative knowledge exchange about best practices from across our country, and maybe even the world, we need support from all levels of government to help build upon this knowledge base so we may integrate and facilitate the effective use of this knowledge into practice. To the provincial & federal government i implore you. The evidence is there use it!!

On February 21 2017, a first national day of action was held across Canada by CAPUD to demand concrete actions to put an end to the war on drugs, remove barriers to health care, and implement policies that are informed by real life experiences of people who use drugs and Service providers. At that time, we met Government Officials to share Our thoughts with them and forward our list of CAPUD’s federal demands: in no particular order they are

  • End the War on Drugs. In the short-term, decriminalize possession of all drugs. In the long term, full legalization and regulation of drugs.
  • Grant immediate exemptions to all supervised injection service (SIS) applicants and/or define them and any future SIS as health services implemented solely by provincial authorities;
  • Create a specific harm reduction initiative as part of the new Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, to support, expand and adequately fund harm reduction programs and strategies including explicit funding for the development of drug user-based organizations and advocacy groups.
  • Remove barriers and increase access to opioid substitution therapy including access to prescription heroin.
  • Implement harm reduction in prisons: needle exchange programs, increasing access to opioid substitution therapy and continuation after release

We should be identifying smart policies and implementing them to apply solutions to save lives. I can honestly tell you the vast majority of deaths I am seeing are related to illicit drugs, Fentanyl and Carfentenyl, and now even cocaine and methamphetamine can contain these. I can also honestly tell you that i have attended numerous funerals in the past few months. And i am now at a point where I have to acknowledge my own personal experiences with tackling issues related to my own mental health, because as of lately I feel as though I’ve been plagued by depression. Thoughts and memories of those we’ve lost leave me holding on to hope, hoping those who hold the power can and will do something to help. Now is the time to remember, it is also the time to act!

Hyi hyi ..thank you