Hero’s come in many different forms and often times, they are rarely recognized for what they do. Nevertheless, what makes those people heroic is the fact that they do what they do anyways. Sarah Blyth is a hero and she has made a huge difference for a countless amount of people; when you help an addict, you also help all the people that they are connected to. Founder of the Overdose Prevention Society (OPS), Sarah Blyth presented a real solution and started saving lives.

Sarah lead a harm reduction workshop at The Dispensary on Thurlow; she talked about opiate overdose, handed out naloxone and showed everybody how to use it. I got to talk to her and ask her some questions about her work, CBD and the opiate crisis. Here is what she had to say…

Photo by Dori Dempster

What is your main focus today?

Well, tonight it’s freezing out so really we are just trying to make sure that people are sleeping in a warm place. We see close to 700 people a day and we don’t want to turn people into the snow at night. 

How did you get into this?

It was because of the market. I was working at the market and people were using in the back alley. An overdose would happen, their friends would come to the market looking for help and before we knew it, we were on the front line. Overdoses were becoming more and more frequent and we just felt like we had to do something. So, we set up a tent with some chairs inside and a heater.

What moment took this from an idea to a reality? Was there a particular incident or day that you remember that made you decide enough is enough I’m doing something about this?

There was a mother who had lost her son. She worked at the market and one day she showed up broken because her son had passed away, just up the street. It was too close to home. She said that maybe if her son had somewhere to go, this wouldn’t have happened.

Since then, you haven’t stopped or looked back.

No, and we have never had a single death at OPS.

We were just tired of seeing people dying in the streets. We have to think about the way that we approach recovery and the way that we introduce things like cannabis and other medications. Thinking about recovery as all or nothing, from an abstinence based perspective just isn’t an option for some people; especially when pain and trauma are involved. We need to look at the individual and what they need to be successful.

Getting them off of fentanyl, thats recovery.

I know from personal experience, the effect that cannabis can have in reducing withdrawal.

In the past we have provided cannabis, but we have had to reevaluate. The police came and told us that we couldnt.

 

There is a lot of that! There is a lot of misunderstanding from the police. Do you find that you are even getting the opportunities to talk to them and even have that dialogue? So that they can understand what you are doing?

It’s really about the two police officers that feel they were carrying out their duties at that time. I don’t feel like that reflects the attitude of every police officer. We have had some conflict with the police over others issues so I think that they took it upon themselves to come to us. I think it was a bit of a power thing and a waste of police and public time.

Actually, it puts peoples lives at risk because people who have found relief in cannabis, it really helps them to get off opiates. By taking that away, its putting their life at risk.

What exactly is the OPS? What do you guys offer there?

We provide a safe place for people to be able to use their drugs without us judging them or telling them that they shouldn’t be doing them.

People can either inject drugs inside with us ready to respond at the first sign of an overdose or there is also a tent set up in the back where people are able to smoke drugs. We have clean supplies, food, condoms etc. Stuff like that.

I really like the fact that you guys don’t judge the people coming in or tell them that they should even stop using.

No one wants to be told what to do. All we can do is be there to make sure that they are safe and provide education.

We have a spectrometer which can be used to test exactly what’s in the drugs that people are taking. You would not believe what is being cut into drugs these days.

I wouldn’t have believed it myself had I not seen the test with my own eyes. That can have a pretty strong effect.

To put it simply, it sounds like you guys are there for people. If they are using, if they OD, you guys want to be there.

That’s it exactly! No one should be using alone and when it happens, it’s dangerous. Having someone there to help explain what happened, calm them down and help them with their withdrawal saves lives. Plus, we can give them CBD to aid their withdrawal symptoms.

I can only imagine how much of a difference CBD could make for someone who has just had to be narcanned.

CBD is an amazing and it makes a big difference after an overdose. Naloxone is an opiate blocker and when people wake up, they are very emotional and it’s can be really intense. Not only are they hurting physically from the withdrawal, they are coming back from something that almost killed them.

CBD really brings down their anxiety. I’d almost say it’s like its sits on those nerves and it really makes a difference on the emotional and physical distress.

So many of us have been touched by this crisis and want to do something about it. Do you have any recommendations?

There is nobody like someone else who has been through something explaining it, the person listening knows that you get it. You can go to school for 1,000 years and you will never understand what a person goes through, it’s impossible.

What it comes down to is having someone who has the experience and has been successful sharing their experience, that is going to be the biggest wealth of information. What you did, how you did it, what they will feel and how to get over it; sharing that is going to help people. When you are talking to family members, teach them, correct people and teach a new way. Know that the work we are doing is important and it’s a bit of a fight.

I didn’t ask Sarah how many overdoses have happened at OPS or how many people she has seen get clean and stay that way. She didn’t wait for me to ask the most important question of all, she told me that critical statistic, how many people had died from an overdose at OPS…zero.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Sarah Blyth and all the amazing people at The Overdose Prevention Society. What you provide for people and the work you do is truly an inspiration.