Tony Trimingham was one of two speakers last night at a public forum at the Ottawa Public Library. He came all the way from Australia to talk about harm reduction programs, and to tell us about his son, Damien, who died of a heroin overdose twelve years ago at the age of 23.
It was a heartbreaking story, graphically illustrated with a series of photographs of Damien from the day he was born till the day he died. What we saw was a baby born into a loving family, who grew into a fun-loving boy and a champion athlete, and who appeared to live his life to the fullest. The last few shots were police photos of him lying alone in a stairwell, dead.
I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. I think we were all able to imagine our own children in Damien Trimingham.
Tony said while it’s true that lots of addicts come from backgrounds of abuse and pain, there are also quite a few who are creative, courageous, artistic people who just seem to need a lot of stimulation and who are risk-takers. Damien was one of those.
Damien tried heroin for the first time 18 months before he died, and, along with his girlfriend, became addicted quickly. After a period of heavy use, he was able to quit, more or less, with treatment. In the 12-month period before he died, he used heroin only once or twice. On the last day of his life, he was in a bar with his new girlfriend, they had an argument, she left, and he embarked on a journey by train and foot that took him to a drug ghetto in King’s Cross.
Damien died about 500 meters from where a safe injection site now stands. It wasn’t there then. His father says we will never know if he would have gone there to inject if it had been there, but Damien did travel a long way that day to get to that neighbourhood where he could buy drugs and clean needles, and there’s good reason to believe he might have gone another 500 meters to inject somewhere safe.
That facility that now exists there has supervised millions of injections, including 3,000 overdoses, all of which were successfully intervened in by nurses. Not one life has been lost.
In seeking support for himself and his family in the aftermath of Damien’s death, Tony realized there was virtually no support available. A counselor by trade, he decided not to stay hidden, not to bear his loss in isolation, and he wrote a letter to a major newspaper about his son’s death and the lack of services. Phone calls poured in from other families who had either suffered the same loss or feared they might. He had touched a nerve by telling his story. He had opened the floodgates.
A public meeting was held, and from that meeting sprung a group called Family Drug Support. They offer support groups, a 24/7 support line, a magazine, courses, information resources about coping with addictions, and bereavement support.
Tony Trimingham also talked about the “defining moment,” which gave me a bit of a jolt. There is a myth that people need to hit rock bottom in order to find the motivation to quit using drugs. In fact, he says, recovering addicts often speak of a defining moment in which they made a decision to quit. It’s a profound and powerful thing that sometimes comes out of the clear blue sky. Interestingly, I myself experienced such a defining moment, yet I’ve rarely heard others speak of it.
I apologize for not getting information out on the blog in advance of last night’s public forum. I know some of you might have liked to attend if you’d known about it. If you happen to be in Montreal, the same forum will be held there tonight (Rm 151 Bronfman Building, McGill University at 6:30 pm). Or, if you’re in Toronto, there will be a Forum at Toronto City Hall on Thursday at 7:00 pm.