A Story of Overdose

A Story of Overdose

When I was 16, I overdosed on drugs. I wasn’t an underage youth taking illegal drugs from unsafe street sources without the appropriate knowledge, but a new and confused chronic pain patient looking for relief from the only easily accessible medication I had access to – Advil. My experience, although a far cry from the overdose crises throughout Canada and the US, especially considering the current fentanyl epidemic, is intertwined with how we view and handle drug abuse, how our medical system inadvertently creates addiction, and how we can better support those who need and want to use drugs.

12 years ago, I was paralyzed from my ribs-down after a botched back operation for scoliosis. In the hospital, I was given morphine, but the side effects were greater than the pain. I was prescribed a few pills, but really didn’t find them effective. When I was discharged 6 months later, there was very little support for the chronic pain that started slowly and silently in the months that followed. Pain became a torrential downpour on my body – from nerve pain down my legs, to spasms up my spine, to chronic migraines. As a teenager, I didn’t know how to relieve the pain – maybe half a bottle of Advil over the period of 24 hours would help? I was carted to the hospital by ambulance, and told I was put on the list for a liver transplant. I had overdosed.

Clearly, I didn’t die. I also found a solution for my chronic pain that has limited negative side effects, and from which there has never been a lethal overdose – medical cannabis. Fortunately, cannabis is a medical solution for a lot of patients – but it’s not for everyone. Considering fentanyl is now prescribed for the multi-layered and sometimes simply excruciating full-body pain I suffer from on a daily basis, I know how lucky I am to have found relief in a substance that works for me. Not everyone is so lucky, and that’s why the cannabis conversation is only the beginning. Often, addiction and eventual overdose starts from a medical prescription, and escalates to sources only available through prohibition. Other times, it’s about not knowing the effects of a drug, or not knowing it’s purity, and not having access to those educational resources. The point is not to judge and criminalize those that use drugs, but to help through our school and medical systems. Just say know, and remember that evidence-based information is the best prevention of overdoses.

As a youth that nearly lost her life due to improper drug knowledge, limited support, and minimal understanding of drug effects, I know first hand how important it is to be heard on how drug and health policies effect youth – if only to reduce harm. CSSDP is co-hosting Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century to help give youth a voice on cannabis in particular – but the conversation only begins with cannabis. Through open dialogue and debate we hope to raise awareness about overdoses, about addiction, and about sensible drug policy. What’s next for drug policy in Canada after cannabis legalization? Only time will tell, but at least we’re taking the steps towards change, talking about drugs and drug policy with our parents, professors, politicians and peers, becoming aware of the social impacts of criminalizing drug users under prohibition, and making life-saving solutions like naloxone readily available.

This International Overdose Awareness Day, let’s support both those who choose to and those who need to use drugs with knowledge and understanding, provide youth with the appropriate education and tools to make informed decisions, and remember those who overdosed and passed away, and the lives that are impacted every day.

Dessy Pavlova

Dessy Pavlova

Chair

Dessy has been studying drug policy and the cannabis industry for over a decade. Dessy works with startups and small businesses to develop their brand and digital marketing strategies in and outside of the Canadian cannabis industry and focuses on teaching and sensible drug education.
Find out more.

Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century

Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century

With cannabis legalization promised in 2017, youth voices on drug policy have never been so loud.

It’s time for students and youth to have their say about cannabis legalization and upcoming drug policy at “Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century,” a forum hosted by Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and sponsored by Lift on September 7th, 2016 at the Centre for Social Innovation. We will be discussing 4 primary topics at this legalization workshop:

  1. Age Restrictions
  2. The Criminalization of Youth
  3. Prevention and Education
  4. Production, Distribution and Access Restrictions

The purpose of this forum is to amplify student and youth voices. Our first youth round table on cannabis legalization will start by covering the history of cannabis in Canada and the trajectory that resulted in prohibition. After examining the evidence, attendees will have the opportunity to give feedback on several topics pertaining to cannabis legalization. The workshop will be hosted for youth by youth, and we encourage  those interested to get involved! With the presence of local politicians, Dr. Catherine Zahn from the Legalization Task Force, and MP Erksine-Smith, this is an opportunity to be heard and create change towards more sensible drug policy.

Check out the Lift Cannabis blog on the event here, share our flyer, and join the conversation on twitter @CSSDP. Also, contact jennav@cssdp.org for more information or to get a personal invite to the event. Meanwhile, sign our petition!

Position Statement: Stop Raiding Dispensaries!

Position Statement: Stop Raiding Dispensaries!

Dispensaries in Canada continue to fill a void in access to medical cannabis, engaging in this act of civil disobedience for almost 20 years. On Wednesday, August 10th, Toronto police conducted a continuation of the Project Claudia raids on several more dispensaries, in addition to the dispensaries raided last week. Both the TPS and the City of Toronto have other means at their disposal for solving the problems posed by storefront dispensaries that does not include arresting otherwise law abiding Toronto citizens. The rapid expansion of dispensaries in Canada is an indication that Canadians in general are hopeful for regulated, retail access under a legalized regime and that many medical patients are in agreement.

Why are we criminalizing dispensary workers?

Particularly, CSSDP is concerned for the many young people who have been arrested, and will likely have criminal records for the rest of their lives in the wake of Project Claudia. The raids the Toronto Police have engaged in disproportionately punish entry-level retail workers. Cannabis prohibition already affects youth disproportionately in Canada. This demographic has some of the highest rates of arrests for cannabis related offences. Criminal charges have long lasting consequences on travel, employment opportunities, and family relationships. Further, with continued issues around access to medical cannabis, particularly for youth under the age of 25, these raids put many users who rely on dispensaries for medical access at greater risk, The new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) defends the continued criminalization of storefront dispensaries with the fact that the product is unregulated. No other justifications are given for this state of affairs. If the only potential harms of storefront dispensaries are a lack of regulations, then it seems more appropriate to regulate them rather than allow a state of affairs to persist that may cause unnecessary harm. Cannabis is safer than other regulated substances like alcohol. It’s time to take this fact seriously.

Arrests aren’t the answer

CSSDP supports regulated access to cannabis for personal use, and applauds the Liberal government for this monumental step forward in their move to legalize cannabis, and to allow personal cultivation under the ACMPR. However, we urge the Toronto Police to stop raiding storefront dispensaries. Simply arresting those involved with will lead to an exclusive industry and a thriving illicit underground economy post-legalization. “The City of Toronto are in a unique position to set themselves up as one of the most important stakeholders as legalization unfolds,” says CSSDP Vice-Chair, Dessy Pavlova, “and could build a template that would allow dispensaries to be included in future regulations, following places such as Victoria and Vancouver in B.C.” CSSDP is hopeful for the development of an inclusive industry that represents a variety of voices, including those who have been working in this industry and providing medical access and products for decades in Canada.