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Webinar looks to help those who’ve lost people to substance abuse

Dealing with a loved one’s addiction is no easy feat and is bound to leave those involved with feelings of guilt, anger, and isolation. Coping with the substance abuse-related death of a loved one is even tougher, says Melina Pearson of Bereaved Families of Ontario, who’ll be taking part in an event later this month with the Woolwich Counselling Centre.

The worst part is that the number of deaths related to overdoses has been sharply on the rise over the last year, in part thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.

The lockdown, social distancing measures, and being stuck alone with no one else around has not only led to more deaths, it has people taking substances they may not have been using previously, said Pearson, who’s the outreach coordinator with Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO).

“What’s happened now with COVID with the border restrictions, people aren’t getting supplies. So, the safe supplies aren’t available for people with the disease, and they aren’t able to access it. People are using different substances right now that they probably may not have been using because they’re isolated, they are alone and they’re using alone. So, in the past when you were allowed to be with other people, prior to COVID, they might have been using those substances with other people. Right now, people are experiencing their substance use alone, which is causing death more as well,” said Pearson.

To help guide those who have been touched by addiction or substance abuse deaths, BFO is hosting an event with the Woolwich Counselling Centre (WCC) April 19.

The event aims to teach people everything from terminology to supporting yourself or someone touched by addiction. Pearson says having this conversation right now is important because this crisis is ongoing.

She said she hopes by running this event in partnership with WCC that more people, not just those who have been affected by substance abuse, can learn about those who are struggling with addiction and support others dealing with the fallout, while reducing the stigma.

“This is a passion for myself, personally. I’ve been impacted by substance death and it has really changed my whole world. We should never define a person by their illness. We should recognize that substance use is a disease or a disorder. It’s not a choice, it’s a health condition. We really need to use person-first language to describe that person to acknowledge that person exists, and we can describe their health conditions after,” said Pearson.

“We can reduce the stigma, we can increase compassion and understanding so that we can break down any barriers for anybody that is experiencing death by substance, or people who are living with substance disease, so they know that there’s compassion and understanding. I always say let’s create a community we want by choosing words related to substance use or substance disease or substance death that recognizes people first, and are compassionate and respectful to each person.”

The event is open to anyone, and Pearson says she encourages everyone to take part because it is important to understand the language and scenarios surrounding addiction.

“As a community, it’s really important for us to understand what is going on, as well as appropriate language. I think a lot of times that what people don’t recognize is the language that we are commonly using, or that has been commonly referred to as someone with a substance disease often is stigmatizing and can leave people isolated. It can also leave people from not getting treatment, or for people who have experienced the death and need support, [they] won’t call for support because they feel like people don’t understand or the death is stigmatized.”

Those interested can sign up for the event by calling 519-669-8651 or by emailing info@woolwichcounselling.org.

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