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The real reason I support the crack kit program

I used to be a drug addict on the streets of Ottawa.

That whole period of my life is a bit hazy, but it started in my teens and lasted a few years.

Amphetamines were relatively cheap and plentiful at the time, and they were my drug of choice.

I wasn’t in good shape. I was malnourished. I weighed 88 pounds. I was dirty. I was broke. My behaviour was about what you’d expect. I took a lot of risks. I didn’t realize how vulnerable I was.

My friends were other addicts. Most of them were older than me, and they looked out for me as best they could. We all knew we were all addicts, but we all knew we were individuals too, with different personalities and qualities and flaws. Everybody else saw us as drug addicts and nothing else.

I remember being afraid of people who weren’t addicts. Everybody else seemed like an authority figure, and therefore somewhat threatening. I didn’t seek medical help when I needed it, or any other kind of help for that matter. I was afraid to.

But I do recall a couple of people who offered me help.

One was a cop. He picked me up (literally) off the street on a viciously cold night after I’d fallen on the ice. I was lying in the intersection at the corner of Bank and Gilmour thinking “a car could run over me here, I should get up” but I just didn’t have the strength to try. He put me in the front seat of his police car and drove around with me, just letting me thaw out. He told me he’d been watching me for a few weeks, and he wanted to help me but wasn’t sure how. After I’d warmed up, he dropped me off where I was going, and told me that if I ever needed anything to let him know.

Another person who wanted to help was a social worker who asked to see me about the living arrangements of my younger brother and sister. She was very nice, and she talked to me like I was a human being rather than just a drug addict. She also told me to come see her if I needed anything.

Both those people made me feel that I was worth something, despite my addiction. They didn’t preach or moralize, they just made me feel like I was worthy of a little human kindness. And that meant something to me.

I was lucky. I survived. I didn’t get any incurable diseases or do any permanent damage to myself. I didn’t end up with a criminal record.

And one day I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized, in one of those lightbulb moments, that it was time to quit, and I quit. I was high at the time, I wasn’t planning to quit, and I had a two-day supply of drugs in my pocket, but I quit that very instant.

Why? Well, I was reading a book – I think it was called the Encyclopedia of Recreational Drugs. It was a pro-drug book, but it flat-out condemned amphetamines, which it called ‘brain-rot.’ At that moment, the phrase resonated with me. I think it was because it wasn’t coming from a judgemental, anti-drug source; it was coming from a source I perceived as credible and objective.

In my case, quitting wasn’t about hitting rock bottom: it was about realizing I still had something to lose and I didn’t want to lose it.

It took awhile to make the transition from drug addict to ‘respectable citizen.’ At first I didn’t fit into either of these two very distinct worlds. I felt like an outsider to both for a long time. Eventually I made the transition. I got healthy, made new friends, completed high school, went to university, established a career, and so on.

I rarely look back on those days, but last week’s announcement about Ottawa City Council cancelling the Crack Kit Program caught my attention and made me reflect.

Crack is what is relatively cheap and plentiful these days. If I was a teenager today, with all other things being equal, I’d probably be a crack addict. And crack is a riskier drug, disease-wise.

The reason I support the crack kit program is because addicts are more than just addicts. They’re human beings, with human frailties and strengths, who have fallen into a powerful trap. And some of them are going to find the strength to escape that trap. Harm reduction programs, such as the crack kit program, give them a better chance of surviving until they find what they need to escape.

The crack kit program does not send addicts the message that society condones drug addiction. It sends them the message that their lives are of value and their future is worth something.

I support that message.

Second PrizeThis post won second prize in the Best Blog Post category of the 2007 Canadian Blog Awards.


26 comments to The real reason I support the crack kit program

  • Em

    I support that message entirely.
    Thanks for this post.

  • I support it too.

    Opponents of harm-reduction cannot see harm-reduction as health care. They can only see it as as an endorsement or condoning of illicit drug use, which itself they see as a moral failure.

    Perhaps they should examine their own moral failure.

  • I support it too.

    Opponents of harm-reduction cannot see it as health care. They can only see it as as an endorsement or condoning of illicit drug use, which itself they see as a moral failure on the part of users.

    Perhaps they should examine their own moral failure.

  • Deb

    I support it too…I also respect you even more than normally for having the courage to admit to your past. There are a lot of people here that didn’t know you back then…I did, and I remember being scared for you. Thank God you quit and most of your brain cells survived; otherwise we would not have the opportunity to read your blog and be educated, amused, horrified, embarrassed or just plain entertained by you.

  • Gilles Seguin

    Zoom, you’re a courageous person for laying it all out there for the world to see, and I’m sure you’re an inspiration to anyone who might read this and who’s caught up in the dark world of hard drugs. You survived those challenges and blossomed into a very nice person despite the adversity.
    Good on ya, mate!

  • Malva

    Well, I just took a moment to email George Bedard (city council guy for Sandy Hill) to tell him I don’t agree with the decision to cancel the program. Now he can’t say that everyone in his riding is against it.

  • Carmen

    Zoom, I so agree with you. The programme should not have been cancelled. Have you thought of emailing your comment to the mayor? I don’t know if it would help him understand…

  • Thank you for all your kind comments. I was touched by them.

    And Malva, thank you for taking the time to let your councillor know that you disagreed.

    Carmen, I’m still thinking about your suggestion, and about other ways to get involved in this from a political angle.

    I see that is collecting donations to replace the City’s $7,500. While well-intentioned, I think governments need to take responsibility for life-and-death public health initiatives, even unpopular ones. I don’t think we should allow them to wash their hands of that responsibility.

  • I think this post was impressive and courageous. I’ve been thinking about it since I read it and then time just went by and now it’s late for making a comment. But good for you. I wonder what makes an addiction start and then continue? I do know it’s never one thing and nothing simple either. So there’s no simple answer to a “cure”. We can just help the symptoms sometimes. I actually thought the safe tattoo program in prison shouldn’t have been cancelled either. Not only was it safe, it might actually have given a skill to the person making the tattoo.

  • Claire

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. My partner is in recovery and from this side of his (non-active) addiction, it feels like there’s very limited ways to explain to other people in my life (family, for example) that every drug addict I know is a person first, just like every other person, they have problems and flaws. Unfortunately the problem of addiction is so private and demonized that it’s nearly impossible to get past thinking, “This person I am looking at, last week he was shooting heroin into his arm” and instead thinking of them as just a person. Your post is one of very few things that I’ve read (or heard outside of my partner’s NA meetings) that gives a strong voice to addiction and humanizes it. Thank you so much.

    In my fair city of Philadelphia, we have needle exchanges and a number of harm-reduction programs, none of which are enough but all of which are better than nothing. There is also a program for knitting with women in recovery. It seems to help.

  • Claire, thank you for taking the time to share your feelings about this post. I’m very happy that it was helpful to you, and I wish your partner continuing success in recovery.

    Take care.

  • […] Best Blog Post Look at my boobs! I am very smart! Mike’s Bloggity Blog Blob: What’s the male of Feminism? The real reason I support the crack kit program Kindness Meters? Slap Upside The Head: Town Council Misunderstands Gay Pride Flag […]

  • […] 1. Best Blog Post. This one’s a bit tricky. Two of my posts have been short-listed in this category: The Real Reason I Support the Crack Kit Program, and Kindness Meters. You can only vote once. If you like one of these posts and don’t like the other one, by all means vote for the one you like. But if you want to vote for me and you like both posts equally, please vote for The Real Reason I Support the Crack Kit Program. This is in order to minimize the vote-splitting effect that comes from having two entries in the same category. (I told you I take this stuff seriously.) […]

  • Wow… here from the Canadian Blog Awards and this post just takes my breath away. I’m off to check out your other post but I’m not sure how you could top it. I suspect my vote’s sewn up.

  • Cinnamon gurl – thank you for the vote and also for the compliment! I voted for you too. :)

  • Rhiannon

    I support it too. I am so awed that you shared this experience; I’m not sure I would have the courage if I were in your shoes. I am proud to have you as a part of my country.

  • Rhiannon

    I think I’ll add a little bit more.

    I suffer from a mental illness for which I’m undergoing treatment. This has at times left me very afraid for my future. Thankfully I have never become addicted to anything other than food, and my parents are willing to support me while I recover.

    But everytime I see someone on the street, in an addictions centre, or walking the corner it gives me chills. If not for the gifts I have had in my life that would be me. I am no different, no better, no worse, I have simply been given resources not everyone has.

    I grew up seeing my uncle’s addiction and learned from it. My parents were always open about addiction and drugs, and that helped me make better choices. If it wasn’t for them I could easily have self-medicated to ease my pain, and ended on the streets. In fact, if they hadn’t invited me back into their home I would be on the street right now.

    All of this has created such gratitude in me, but I hurt for everyone out there in the cold who hasn’t had the resources and support I have. There but for the grace of god go I.

  • Rhiannon – that is *exactly* what I think too when I see people struggling on the streets: There but for the grace of god go I. Thanks very much for sharing your experience too.

  • Rhiannon

    You’re very welcome. It was really cathartic to get it all out there. If you e-mail me I’ll tell you my ravelry name. I have to admit I’m not entirely comfortable leaving it here because of the stigma associated with my illness, especially since I’m still in treatment.

  • Jessiy

    Hi. Im proud of you for telling people. Maybe my brother will wake up one day. I know you but you probably dont know me, my mom is friends with your mom, barbara. My moms name is Tammy Campbell. :)

  • MJ SAD

    Hi. I’m a mother of a crack addict. Never heard of the crack kit, but then we live in SC, USA…such a program is far too human for us yet. My son is on a “run” right now, though it would be ever so much easier for him and me if he had a safer option. Meanwhile, does anyone know any other ways to truly help a crack addict overcome his cravings and addiction? I’m afraid of how frequent and severe his need for crack has become.

  • MJ, I’m very sorry to hear that you and your son are going through this. I can’t offer you any specific advice on how to help him move beyond his addiction, because I honestly don’t know – but I do believe he can do it when he’s ready, providing he has what he needs. In my experience, the number one absolutely essential thing is that he has to want to quit and be ready to quit. That’s where it starts. Have you done the research to find out if there are any treatment facilities in your area, so that when he’s ready, he’ll have resources and support backing him up?

    Warm wishes for a healthy outcome,

  • hey zoom, I was an amphetamine addict 15 years ago. the addiction persisted on and off for 7 years. one day I just decided I was sick of it and never looked back. perhaps that means I wasn’t as addicted as I thought because once I’d made my mind up it wasn’t as difficult to give up as anticipated.

    that was a great post, a well deserved award

  • Zoom, I followed a link to this post from your interview with Max. That was powerful writing. You are a terrific person and I am happy that you had that epiphany and that you are still with us. It’s interesting how people who survive cancer are celebrated in ways that those who survive addictions are not.