Drug users deserve dignity, too

In the last 18 months I have been witness to something amazing: the empowerment of a group of people who usually live in the margins of our society - drug users. With the goal of reaching out and supporting the health care needs of people...

Patricia Bacon

In the last 18 months I have been witness to something amazing: the empowerment of a group of people who usually live in the margins of our society – drug users.

With the goal of reaching out and supporting the health care needs of people who use illicit drugs, Blood Ties Four Directions began hosting weekly meetings. While we were able to bring to the drug users important health information such as methadone access, Hepatitis-C treatment, harm reduction techniques and overdose prevention, something else was also unfolding at the weekly meetings: empowerment, dignity and self-worth.

The Drug User Coalition members decided that they wanted you – the average person in our community – to know them a little better, to understand them and to see them as the whole persons they are. Over several weeks they worked together to put these words together – all of the quoted paragraphs in this article – for you.

“We are the Drug User Coalition. In 2012 we began as a peer support group meeting weekly to discuss issues affecting people who use drugs in Yukon. When we started there were only two or three people coming; however, in the past year, we have had steady attendance of about 10 people.

“We discuss a broad range of topics including: health and wellness, housing, empowerment, drug policy and treatment options. As well, we have been learning from similar groups that exist in other regions in Canada and the world. Our goal is to give a voice to people who use drugs in Yukon.

“Our community had a need for a group like ours; where the concerns of drug users could be heard in a safe non-judgemental environment. As people who use drugs, we have experienced discrimination and marginalization in our efforts to get housing, food and employment. Through attending this group, we are reminded that we are not only our addiction; that there is more to us. We are people with jobs, homes, families, and we contribute positively to the community.

“The Drug User Coalition empowers people who use drugs to have a voice and to be safe. We are not just drug users; we are people first.

“Our message to the community of Whitehorse is that drug use exists in our community. Please, don’t look away from the issues we face as drug addicts. We want equal access to the resources available. We need to access clean equipment in a safe non-judgemental environment; we need opportunities to earn a living, safe housing, and health care. People who use drugs are people first. We are human beings and seek acceptance. We need help and support, not above anyone else, but not forgotten either. We are members of this community and have valuable insights and perspectives to provide.”

Empowerment and dignity is one of the best health outcomes we could ever have hoped for. People who use drugs must first and foremost see themselves as people who have the right not to be marginalized.

Once people no longer accept and see themselves as marginalized, they no longer accept discriminatory practices such as being banned from health centres, housing programs, and other social programs they might need in the journey to becoming as healthy as possible.

The second thing that happens when you bring a group of people together every week that are used to being isolated is that they empower each other and invest in the health of each other.

“Our message to other people who are using drugs is we want you do it safely. The Drug User Coalition does not promote drug use but we do promote safe drug use. We operate from a harm reduction approach which is a philosophy that supports the development of policies and programs that help people address the harmful effects of substance use including overdose, HIV, Hepatitis C, addiction, poverty, violence, isolation, homelessness and incarceration.”

I am proud to be able to offer the weekly support group to the Drug User Coalition, I am privileged to witness the empowerment and dignity of these people, and I am better for knowing them – and now, dear reader, I hope you are too.

Patricia Bacon is the executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions Centre.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3-hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council will vote on the second reading of the Official Community Plan amendment on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Future area of Whistle Bend considered by council

Members set to vote on second reading for OCP change

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision


Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read