Please share your experience with SOPEN, we would love to hear about it!

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I am a former addict. The day and the life of an addict is a long, scary dark road. Organizations like SOPEN should be in the spotlight of society. Too many addicts are unaware of what’s in their drugs nowadays and that can change your life in the blink of an eye. Nor do they have the crucial information about naloxone and naloxone training to save a life. In my many years of substance abuse, I’ve witnessed overdoses and the shock of not knowing what to even do in that given situation. A few minutes of your time to learn and possibly save someone, especially in a time of high overdose rates should be a high priority of drug users, education systems, and everyday civilians in our communities. Help make the difference, harm reduction and information about the importance of naloxone and how to use it will save many lives in this hard time we face!

Dave MacDonald

Currently I work as an Outreach Worker at Wesley Urban Ministries and a Peer Support Worker for Grenfell Ministries, as well as being their Walking With Women Program Coordinator in Hamilton. Prior to starting my career in these fields, I was in active addiction for 14 years. I was both an active user and a dealer. I started my addiction at the age of 33 and was completely naive to the drug world. As a grown woman I wasn’t educated from anyone about substance use, except by the streets. I now see how very dangerous this was. Our youth face many challenges, and unfortunately addiction is often one of them. Whether it be a family member, parent or themselves. As a community we cannot ignore this reality. Not all youth and teens have the support they need at home. We have to meet them where they’re at. Teaching youth and teens about harm reduction and how to use naloxone will save lives. We can no longer turn a blind eye to something that ravages our community and our youth.

Barb Swietek

I have been volunteering as a youth program leader for over 10 years. In my experience, we spend a lot of time talking about how to respond to a broken bone or a cut, but not how to respond to other life-threatening emergencies like overdose. SOPEN gave youth a non-judgmental and educational space to learn about substance use and help youth feel prepared to respond to an overdose. I truly believe this work will save lives and I am so grateful to SOPEN for bringing these presentations to young people. I think naloxone education should be a part of every first aid program.
Emma Fisher-Cobb

It was an absolute pleasure to have SOPEN in our space at the Move Room presenting their workshop and Naloxone training. They created an open and inclusive environment, and did a great job handling heavy subject matter with care. I highly recommend inviting SOPEN into your space, and supporting the important work they do with harm reduction in our city
Jo Gale

As an Educator at the HWDSB, I think education is key and SOPEN is delivering that message. I think it shows the youth respect because it shows we are listening. We are one global community that needs to advocate for a safe haven for generations that are here and the ones to come. Spread the love through prevention.
Jessica Compton

As a community advocate, youth leader, and President of Youth Mental Health March Canada I have been working on advocating for youth mental health in all of my work over the last 5 years, the work that I have seen the SOPEN Team do for members in their Hamilton and Greater Hamilton Area community is truly inspiring. Having had the opportunity to see them present and to work with them at past events with the Youth Mental Health March Canada which I lead, I can say with extreme confidence that their presentations, knowledge, and determination are leaving a meaningful impact on every single person that they talk and present to. Overdose prevention is mental health help – and I am grateful that the SOPEN Team is working tirelessly to end the stigma and work to prevent overdoses in our community. Mental health and receiving any form of mental health help should never be stigmatized or hard to access.
Joshua Bell

I’ve had the privilege of working in housing and homelessness for over 20 years in Hamilton. Very often my work has intersected with the voices of advocates for real harm reduction approaches. Not only does a harm reduction approach make pragmatic sense but the underlying philosophies of respect, dignity and meaningful inclusion are lessons to be learned across our system. I now teach in the School of Social Work at McMaster University and am heartened by the work of SOPEN. To imagine entire cohorts of students in helping and justice-oriented programs entering the world with a solid grasp on harm reduction – how to do it and how to respect and care for people who use drugs makes me hopeful in the midst of a really hard time in our community. I strongly endorse the work that SOPEN is doing – supporting and nurturing a next generation of helpers, community members and people to save lives and make the community a more compassionate, just place.

Jennie Vengris

As a community pharmacist I have heard extremely sad stories about people using substances and the loss of precious lives that could have been saved. Having a community pharmacy as “a safe and secure privacy kiosk” for patients who use substances, especially teenagers will save lives. Community pharmacies are a safe space where teenagers can speak securely and safely about their addiction challenges and seek professional help and support. Community pharmacists can offer assistance by providing naloxone, directing teenagers to mental health and social services, and other resources that can definitely contribute to their health and well being.

Rami Safi

I am an internal medicine and infectious disease physician and I work primarily with people with substance use disorders both in hospital and in the community. My patients struggle with a variety of physical and mental health issues, but by far the most dangerous issue they face is a toxic drug supply and the risk of overdose. The Student Overdose Prevention and Education Network is an important initiative which will equip students with the tools they need to keep them and their community members safe.

Dr. Tim O’Shea

As a registered social worker with several years of experience working in community and clinical settings, I’ve worked with clients experiencing various mental health and substance use concerns. Within my practice, I’ve seen great complexities around substance use and the ways in which it impacts every corner of my community. Every day, I witness the ways in which social stigma perpetuates the cycles of trauma and addictions and unfortunately witnessed many lost lives as a result of the socialized shame and guilt around substance use. Youth need equitable access to knowledge, understanding and resources that are necessary to make informed, safe decision about their health and wellness. The mission and dedication of SOPEN to spread awareness, reduce stigma, and provide access to harm reduction supports will not only directly impact the lives of youth but also our community as a whole.

Robin Shereck

Currently I work as a psychometrist at the Anxiety Treatment and Research Clinic (ATRC) with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. Prior to this I spent 10 years working directly with individuals impacted by substance use. Many of us have unintentionally formed biases towards youth who use substances. I have never met someone who said when they grow up that they wanted to be dependent on drugs. When we genuinely listen to one’s story, we see how that person is doing their best that they know how to cope with the pain they have experienced related to the obstacles they have faced. Many teens do not feel safe or feel shame talking about substance use and as a result, fail to have the opportunity to learn about safe substance use and overdose prevention. Providing education about these topics is an immediate way to save lives while also opening the door for youth to feel valued and support. We can make a difference and this is how!!

Jon Whitson

I am the Director of Spiritual Care for the Salvation Army’s Halton, Hamilton, Brantford Housing and Support Services. Previously, I worked as a chaplain at a Salvation Army emergency men’s shelter. Over 5 years as chaplain, I have become acutely aware of links between childhood trauma and addiction. Many of our shelter residents didn’t have the privilege of growing up in homes where they were able to establish healthy attachments with their caregivers, and as a result, seek substances to fill that void. Instead of stigmatizing people–especially young people!–for substance use, we need to treat them with respect and dignity, prioritizing their safety and well-being. Without safety and stability, it’s really hard for people with addictions to make informed decisions about their long-term health and wellness! I support the work of SOPEN in equipping young people to practice harm reduction and overdose prevention with the hopes of improving the long-term outcomes of those who have experienced trauma.

Jon Miedema

I am an Addictions Attendant working out of Womankind Addiction Services – St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and have had the pleasure to work at several off site programs providing support to women who are homeless, living with mental health concerns and substance use. Through my many years of experience there has been a trend where substance use has been a means of coping with trauma that they have experienced, more often than not this coping strategy starts at a young age. It is imperative that we start non biased and open dialogue with our youth. This allows for an opportunity to discuss harm reduction means, provide education, break stigma and above all else save lives.

Tara Halfkenny

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