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Opioid crisis in spotlight during addictions awareness week in Winnipeg

“She could have been saved”: James Favel advocates for greater awareness of overdose symptoms

Bear Clan Patrol volunteer James Favel, shown handing out candy to a girl in the North End, says the city’s drug problem has worsened “exponentially.”

the canadian press / The Canadian press

Bear Clan Patrol volunteer James Favel, shown handing out candy to a girl in the North End, says the city’s drug problem has worsened “exponentially.”

Winnipeg is facing an opioid crisis head on, but not enough people see it staring them straight in the face, says a local advocate.

“People don’t recognize the signs of overdose,” said James Favel, co-founder of Bear Clan Patrol.

He’s booked solid this week, speaking at a number of events for National Addictions Awareness Week, led by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) Nov. 12–18.

It was around this time last year that Favel’s Bear Clan Patrol, a North End neighbourhood patrol group, first received nalaxone kits to treat fentanyl overdoses.

Since then, Favel says he’s seen the city’s drug problem worsen “exponentially.”

“In our first year (2015) from July to November, we picked up 18 needles. Second year we picked up 300. So far in 2017, we’ve picked up over 3,000,” he said.

Fentanyl was either the primary or contributing cause in 17 overdose deaths in 2016 according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Favel now knows how to prevent such deaths, but still remembers the times when he felt helpless. He witnessed an 18-year-old family friend overdose in 2008 after she fell asleep while running a bath.

“I didn’t understand what the problem was because I didn’t recognize the symptoms,” he said. “She could have been saved.”

Now Favel wants more people trained in how to recognize signs of an overdose, like severe sleepiness, shallow breathing and blue lips.

At the very least, Favel wants addictions “to be viewed as more of an illness than a choice.”

It’s a goal he shares with the CCSA, who framed this year’s National Addictions Awareness Week around reducing stigma with the hashtag #wordsmatter.

For example, the organization is encouraging people to consider using “person with a substance abuse disorder” over “addict.”

Whichever wording is used, it’s said to describe the situation of 1 out of 10 Canadians struggling with substance abuse.

The CCSA website says 83 per cent of those Canadians experience barriers to recovery, with stigma being a top factor.

Manitoba Harm Reduction Network is hosting overdose response training sessions in Selkirk on Thursday and in Winnipeg at Crossways Church on Nov. 22.

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