We don’t talk about it.
Despite losing more than 12,000 British Columbians to illicit drug overdoses in the last 10 years, and the province declaring a public health emergency in 2016 in response to the rise in drug overdose deaths, B.C’s youth aren’t learning the basics.
Chloe Goodison is trying to change that.
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The 20-year-old Port Moody woman started an initiative more than a year ago that empowers volunteers to give short presentations to high school classrooms across the community.
The initiative, NaloxHome, sees trios and pairs of youth volunteers deliver fact-based presentations to youth. In 45 minutes they cover stigma and harm reduction, the signs of an overdose and how to deliver naloxone. While Goodison and her team of volunteers aren’t allowed to distribute the life-saving drug themselves, they offer information on the closest place to get it.
“We’re educating kids who maybe otherwise hadn’t heard of naloxone to go get naloxone,” she said. “We’re also just teaching students not to talk about people who use drugs in such degrading ways.”
NaloxHome’s presentations are filling a chasm that has appeared in the province’s curriculum.
Goodison was 16 when she witnessed her first drug overdose. She was riding the Skytrain when the girl next to her collapsed.
“I had no idea what was happening,” she said. “Nobody else on the train knew what was happening.”
Her own bias assumed the girl was diabetic, or needed to eat, but once paramedics administered naloxone, she “shot back to life,” Goodison told the Canadian Press.
She realized there was a lot to learn and started volunteering with the Tri-Cities Community Action Team. Goodison says it’s not her school’s fault that she wasn’t taught about the drug crisis in class; it’s just not part of the curriculum. The topic is heavy and can be hard to teach. It can be easier to hear from peers rather than a counsellor, police officer or teacher, Goodison said.
In 2020, the SFU health sciences student applied for a grant with the school’s Community Engagement Competition to get NaloxHome off the ground. She won the grand prize of $3,000 and got to work.
The initiative started with input from public health nurses and counsellors whom Goodison, now in her third year of post-secondary studies, had connected with while volunteering in high school.
“They really helped me shape a fact-based and scientifically backed presentation that was also sensitivity aware,” she said.
During its first year, NaloxHome had 17 volunteers delivering presentations. This year, there’s a team of 34 volunteers with the Tri-Cities branch. It has also expanded to a new school district: Burnaby, with another team of volunteers based out of SFU.
While the organization has received invitations to present in classrooms across the Lower Mainland, Goodison said they simply don’t have the workforce to follow through. However, Goodison said she’s open to starting new chapters if the right people are interested.
While it can sometimes feel like the drug crisis is unfolding at arms’ length, in reality, it’s affecting every single corner of the province.
Anecdotally, Goodison understands that more than half the youth they present to don’t have a relationship with a substance and haven’t lost someone they know to a substance.
“But there’s this mindset that then this doesn’t apply to them, but that’s so not true,” she says. “There’s so much you can do in educating your peers about naloxone and harm reduction and helping to . . . break down the stigma that’s preventing people from seeking help.”
In September, the latest data available, B.C. saw an average of approximately 5.7 deaths per day. These are the sad statistics. But each of those numbers was also a person, someone who is loved and missed. The number of drug deaths has steadily increased since 2011 (there is one anomaly year where it dipped) and with just over a month left in 2022, it’s set to be another deadly year.
While there are some steps being taken, like the decriminalization of small amounts of some illicit drugs for personal use starting Jan. 31, 2023, and ads that support destigmatising drug use, Goodison said she would like to see NaloxHome taught across the province.
They’ve reached more than 3,000 students so far and she continues to receive accolades for founding the program, attention she isn’t totally comfortable with, but that is helping her program reach more people.
“It’s important to use your voice if you have something to say about a big issue with your community.”