Members of a group called Addicts and Allies Humanizing Addiction spent Friday afternoon picking up biohazardous waste from Courtenay parks. Photo by Terry Farrell

New addict peer outreach group forms in the Comox Valley

Addicts and Allies Humanizing Addiction offers harm reduction, supervised injection

Joanne Moore and Ed Patterson are lifelong Comox Valley residents.

Joanne is a mother of six, and has 12 grandchildren.

Ed is a fourth-generation Cumberlander.

They are also addicts.

Joanne and Ed belong to a newly-formed group called Addicts and Allies Humanizing Addiction (AAHA).

They want people to understand that, although they are battling drug addiction, they can still contribute to society in a positive manner.

That’s what their group is all about.

“We are a local group of addicts who focus on harm reduction education, overdose prevention, and community clean-ups in an effort to humanize people who use substances and reduce stigma related to addiction,” said Ed. “We offer naloxone training, harm reduction education, and a culture of acceptance regardless of an individual’s life circumstances.”

“There are nine of us in the group. We are all either in rehab, or still using,” said Joanne. “We all have families and friends that we have lost to the opioid crisis.”

AAHA has hosted naloxone training sessions, and harm reduction education in both the Comox Valley and Campbell River. It operates under the guidance of AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI). The AAHA members spent Friday afternoon picking up biohazardous materials (i.e. used syringes) that have been left in the downtown parks, and other areas addicts are known to frequent, in Courtenay.

“Today we are doing a community clean-up in and around Simms Park, Vanier, the swimming pool, and along the trails near the curling rink,” said Moore.

“We are trying to make the area safer for people, their children, their dogs,” said Patterson. “All this stuff gets left behind by irresponsible addicts, and because we are addicts ourselves, we are taking it upon ourselves to go clean those things up.”

These disposal receptacles contain approximately 110 used syringes, and other drug paraphernalia picked up by AAHA members during a community clean-up Friday, July 5. Photo submitted.

Friday’s clean-up netted more than 100 used syringes, as well as other discarded paraphernalia.

When they aren’t doing such community clean-ups, they are working on the front line of the opioid crisis – addicts as outreach workers, helping other addicts stay as safe as possible.

The members are all trained in harm reduction. They visit many of what Patterson calls the “trap houses” in the Comox Valley – houses where addicts go, primarily to get high, or engage in other nefarious activities – and they see the crisis at its very core.

“We go to the houses where people are ODing,” said Patterson. “The stuff we see you’ll never hear about, because it isn’t reported, so there are no stats. The hospitals, Island Health, they don’t get the real stats. The one house I was at last month, there were like 20 overdoses, but nobody died, so there’s 20 overdoses that go unreported.”

RELATED: Fatal overdoses mount on Vancouver Island

Patterson said he knows of 18 to 20 such “trap houses” in the Comox Valley.

He said he has reversed 23 overdoses with naloxone. Moore does not keep track, but estimates she has saved that many addicts, if not more.

“There’s lots,” she said. “[I saved a] 12-year-old prostitute up by the train tracks. That’s sad. That’s really, really sad.”

They both said that while naloxone is saving lives, it is also becoming part of the problem.

“There’s an over-abundance of naloxone out there – people think they can use as much as they want and as long as there’s naloxone around… ‘somebody will save me,’” said Patterson.

“So there’s a good and a bad side to [naloxone],” said Moore.

If you or someone you know is interested in naloxone training and/or harm reduction education, you can call the AAHA hotline (778-992-0771) to leave a message for the AAHA group. If someone is in need of an outreach worker, they are urged to call the number as well.

“We are out there, the nine of us, we all carry clean supplies at all times, we will respond, stay with you if you are using, so you aren’t alone. We all carry naloxone kits at all times,” said Moore. “We want to keep our community as safe as possible, and with us being out there, it’s getting a little safer every day.

“A lot of these people don’t feel they have anybody. But talking to somebody that’s right on the same level as them, which is all of us [in AAHA], it makes it so much easier. I can go right into the houses and not be a threat to them… they know I am not bringing in the cops.”

The AAHA group will be at summer events including an education table at the Courtenay Wednesday Night Markets on July 31 and Aug. 28 from 4-8 p.m.



terry.farrell@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Alert Bay: COVID-19 cases go from 30 to zero thanks to health and emergency planning

Dr. Cutfeet says community leadership set Alert Bay up for success

Kwakiutl First Nation cautiously eases restrictions around COVID-19; Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw to remain locked down for now

Both First Nations near Port Hardy have no COVID-19 cases, and are prioritizing community safety

Pacific Coastal Airlines will resume service next month

‘We are pleased to confirm that we will be resuming scheduled service on June 1, 2020’

MP Rachel Blaney feels low-income boost for seniors falls short, but is pleased with the support for commercial fishers

‘Seniors in our communities have been asking for help with additional costs due to COVID-19’

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Snowbirds to remain at Kamloops Airport indefinitely after fatal crash

small contingent of the Snowbirds team is staying in Kamloops, acting as stewards of the jets

Oak Bay man stumbles upon eagle hunting seal, grabs camera just in time

The eagle did ‘a perfect butterfly stroke to shore’ with its prey, photographer says

Most Read