This week the Express spoke in depth with Keira Vander Vliet about his thoughts on the opioid crisis. Vander Vliet also shared his story with opiates. He’s been substance-free now for two years.
Vander Vliet, who grew up in Innisfail, started getting involved in heavy drinking and drug use at the age of 14.
“My drug use was sort of sporadic and intermittent up until I was 30, and I started to get into really heavy drug use and that went on for about three years.”
Within his drug consumption, there was lots of fentanyl.
When asked how the community has been in responding to the opioid crisis, he said, “It’s an utter failure. If we’re going to address it as a health crisis, we should be addressing it as a health crisis and not as a problem with certain individuals.”
He added that there are currently two discussions happening with regards to safe consumption sites.
“One discussion is about human lives and the other discussion is about economics. To combine those two discussions, it might ask what is the value of a human life?
“At what point are they costing us enough that we’re not going to support them anymore? And that price looks like it’s pretty low in this community,” he said.
Vander Vliet believes in having the sites here in the City, and doesn’t know where the disconnect is.
“There’s also this discussion of safety in the downtown core and I don’t think that the drug using population in the downtown core is nearly the threat that people assume they are.”
He added that there is a lot of misunderstanding and apprehension within the public. “I think that if we’re going to start addressing this problem, we’re going to have to start doing some things that make us uncomfortable like having safe consumption.”
To describe the opioid crisis, Vander Vliet calls it a policy failure of epic proportions.
“I think the fentanyl crisis is a direct result of our drug policy.”
When it comes to his own personal story, he said he counts himself extremely lucky.
“I was lucky enough that I had support structures in place. I got on a drug replacement therapy, I used sobboxin (an opiate drug replacement) for eight months,” he said, adding that he was also housed and had economic support.
He said connection is key to helping aid the opioid crisis. “I think there are a lot of factors that go into somebody being able to recover, but relationships are huge.”
Although he doesn’t disagree with the answers that are coming up to do with this crisis, he has some fundamental problems with the questions being asking to come up with those answers.
Some of those questions he said could be, how do we engage in best practices?
How do we start looking at this from a scientific perspective? What exactly is the problem with drugs and how do we handle that problem? Is the problem simply a question of perception?
If there were a supervised consumption site when Vander Vliet was using, he said he would have definitely taken advantage of it. “I can identify a number of occasions which I would have. I was lucky enough to have that support structure.”
Looking at his life now compared to what it was when he was using, he said, “I appreciate not looking at my life through a filter anymore.
“Because I’ve stopped using, I’ve had opportunities to engage my world in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to if I’d been caught up in my substance use.”
He said a majority of his time was spent chasing a high, and that he started doing drugs because he was unable to make human connections. “I felt a perpetual distance between myself and other people, and in order to cope with that I cultivated a relationship with substance use.”
Having known people who have used drugs, Vander Vliet has unfortunately dealt with the devastating side – death.
“There’s that constant threat. If you know anybody who’s using, you’re essentially mourning them before they die. You just have to assume that it could happen anytime,” he said.
For those who are still using, he wants them to know that a different life is possible and he continues to be a support to those around him, along with providing a non-judgmental place people can come to and talk.