Sunday , November 29 2020

"She does not look like a drug addict" – Nanaimo News Bulletin



"Like Gala, this monument and my glory will not be done in the usual way," says Judy Johnson at "Esther" in Comox on October 27th.

"I will use this time and my death to encourage you to see and work for a different lifestyle, because our systems no longer work for us if ever they were."

In mid-October, Johnson received the news that she had been afraid for years – the announcement that her 23-year-old daughter, Gala Stewart, had died of an overdose.

Johnson does not know how it happened or why she happened – she's not even sure she was on October 13 or 14, but these details do not matter to her. She does not want to blame every single person, but she is angry that systems – systems designed to help those who struggle – allow thousands of people to die of overdoses every year, including her daughter.

Last family dinner

Johnson will be forever grateful for Thanksgiving 2018.

She remembers her sisters, their partners, friends, family and gala sitting at the table, enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner and saying nothing is wrong.

"I actually saw her again," Johnson said. "She was relaxed and she laughed at the jokes I did … and everything was wrong with the world."

Johnson describes Gala as honest and clear. Probably the real personality of Gala, which led to a violent connection between her and her mother.

"She was like a mature age from the beginning, she was so mature and responsible, and when things were over, they were over," Johnson said. – And after puberty. At 14, it was just like zero to hell at no time.

Johnson does not know exactly when Gala started using drugs, but he supposed it could be about that time.

"I really did not know what was going on." Everything I knew looked at her from afar, lost, and did not look passionate.

Johnson takes the annual book of Gala's Grade 12 and flies behind the signatures and messages from friends to find a photo to complete. The quote reads: "Injustice is always a weakness. Sincerity, even by mistake, is power.

"She does not look like a drug addict," Johnson said, looking up at the page.

The abovementioned quote from Gala Stewart for a 12-year quote reads: "Injustice is always a weakness, sincerity, even by mistake, is power." (Facebook image)

"It was a long time"

Jericho Riddsdale met a gala in the pool when he was about 11, but only a few years later he became friends.

"One of my best memories is simply to do nothing but laugh together for stupid things and talk about things that are most important to us in the world," said Riddsdale. "She really wanted to be a prime minister, she was very motivated and determined to be the first [elected] Prime Minister of Canada. "

About two years ago, Riddale moved to Gala in Vancouver. Riddsdale knew that Gala was using substances and slowly getting worse.

"I talked with her a little that people really hurt him," she said. "She was absent for quite a long time that she had no problem working and living a normal life, but it was a long time.

Riddesdale's memory of Gala is not a junkie; she remembers Gala as a supportive friend who made her do everything possible. Gala told Riddsdale to pursue her passions for art and writing and not to give up.

Although she was strong outside, Gala tried to acknowledge her own need for help.

"She never wanted to leave anyone down and she just wanted to have a bright face and she was doing well," says Riddsdale. "She did not want anyone to see she was fighting or hurting … but she had come a long time, she just hurt for a very long time and did not get the help she needed for a very long time She felt very alone in her dependency yours.

Riedsdale said there is not enough help for those who fight addiction, and stigma can often be lethal. She added that Gala wants to improve and is determined to improve, but the decision she faces has prevented the recovery.

"It's just mass murder. Our youths should not die and our young people die faster, "said Riddsdale." I have never felt death before the last three years. But now it's slow, one by one, they will be removed. In fact, it just went wrong.

Jericho Riddsdale and Gala Stewart became friends in high school and later lived together in Vancouver. The photo was provided by Jericho Riddsdale.

Addiction help remains inaccessible.

Days before the memories of Gala Johnson began to develop skin itching that was getting worse.

"The night of her monument was just like …" Johnson pointed his hands to show that he was embracing her skin. "I could not stop and realized that addiction was like a powerful itch, and how many of us would not scratch the itch.

"Every time I scratched it, I thought it would be the last time, it would be the last time, and then I would go out and try something else, and I tried it so many times.

Johnson knows Gala uses OxyContin and Xianax, and only a few years ago Gala finally admitted he was using heroin.

"And that is, she claimed to have rid her of it. Gala was someone who, if he said he was going to do something, would do it, "Johnson said.

"She would do what she said she would, and it was fair. Although several counselors said, "It's not something you're going out with," I could not deny she did not stop.

Johnson describes times in which he tried to help Gala, including unsuccessfully, trying to get her to recover. She even described a visit to a psychiatrist who told his daughter Johnson that he was "unsubscribe".

Sitting in his living room, Johnson points to a chair next to the window and says that's where he will be dragging for two years by waving his brain for ways to help his daughter.

She wondered if Gala needed treatment for her mental health or if she needed help with addiction but said, "What does it matter if she is addicted or mentally ill?

One of many

Johnson is not alone in this faith.

In 2017, Judith Conway Matthew's son died of an overdose. He was a lecturer and took up a gym until the day of his death.

His addiction begins with a prescription after an accident and soon turns into something he can not control.

Matthew went to rehabilitation, but he went on again.

"It's very frustrating, and the problem is, how do we get help?" Conway asked. "I believe the medical system needs to be involved and start helping people go down and medically treat instead of being thrown away and treated as if they are not much better than rubbish. you did this for yourself ", meanwhile, [the doctor’s] the one who gave you three months OxyContin.

While Conway tried to help her son overcome her addiction, she helped other mothers with children who were overwhelmed by overdose, and she had often heard despair and hopelessness in her voices.

In August Conway raised an interactive display on his fence in Comox to show the number of people who died in the overdose. She added white flags for the number of people who are expected to die from overdose every week.

She hopes to take this display on the road.

– Let 's stop watching the story. We have a problem right now; right now right in front of us, "Conway said. "It's an epidemic, the numbers have tripled, it's not just Canada's problem – stop turning your heads, we have to start to face that and we have to start offering solutions."

The Judith Conway Memorial on its rear fence at Comox overlooking Guthrie Road. Photo sent.

An overdose prevention site manager says that more needs to be done

Sarah Sullivan has heard stories like Gala Stewart and Matthew Conway over and over again.

Sullivan is the manager of the AIDS offices in Vancouver, Courtenay and Campbell River. Although the organization specializes in helping people living with HIV / AIDS or Hepatitis C, it also offers harm reduction services. In the spring of 2017, it also opened a place to prevent overdose.

She said the medical system is trying to cope with the enormous opioid crisis, but the level of response is not enough.

"I think we are trying to react very much, but the level of response at national level is not enough because it requires us to make a fairly radical thinking about the use of substances," she said.

"The reality is that people are taking drugs, and the drugs they accept on the underground market are poisoned, not that we have more people who take drugs, that the drugs they take are poisoned, and people die."

According to the latest Canada statistics, between January and March 2018, Canada had 1,036 obvious opioid deaths, 94% of which were unintended. This is an increase of 16% in the same period in 2017.

The Death Rate in B.C. is consistently the highest in Canada. In 2017, there are 1473 deaths in British Columbia – more than a third of the country's total. This has increased drastically by only 211 deaths in 2010.

The increase was due to the introduction of fentanyl into the drug market.

Sullivan said the opioid crisis is a complex issue that requires many different solutions, including providing safer medicines and supporting homes for people using drugs.

In addition, Sullivan said that more community resources are needed in each municipality so people do not have to leave their community to get access to the help they need.

"If someone tries to get into detoxification in our community, it can take several weeks," Sullivan says. "We get more doctors coming on board prescribing treatment with opioid agonists, but this is one of the inconsistencies that we have services in larger centers that are not available in smaller centers and definitely not in rural areas. "

According to the BC Coroners Service, 79% of people who died from an overdose had contact with the medical system in the year preceding their death, and 56% of these people were dealing with pain problems.

Sullivan stated that it is important to start the early discussion and build sustainability in children so that they do not grow to develop problem drug use as a way to deal with problems like chronic pain.

She believes that a proactive approach to the opioid crisis should be targeted at schools in order to raise awareness at an early age.

One of the main problems Sullivan sees is the negative stigma that continues to surround consumers of illegal substances further enhanced by the normalization of substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

"Alcohol is quite normalized and is often celebrated – it's part of our celebrations, and then we have the most deaths that happen from tobacco, which is totally legitimate," she said, adding that there are biased ideas for people , which use illegal substances,

"The reality is that it crosses many demographics, and many people who use drugs can not even use it normally, there are many people who do, but there are people who use them for entertainment," she said.

"There is still a lot of denial, I think, especially in smaller communities, because it is not as in your face as in larger communities." Many people think this is a bigger urban problem … do not think this is happening here, but unfortunately we know this is the case, and we have lost many people over the Campbell overdose, the Kurenhayi communities.

Each month, AIDS VI gives 6,000 to 8,000 syringes and serves approximately 100 unique individuals.

AIDS VI offers free nylon kits and employees are trained to prevent overdose on the spot.

As the overdose prevention site is open in the spring, they have turned over 22 overdoses.

Mother calls for change

In October 2017, after living on the continent for nearly three years, Gala called her mother to want to be picked up and Johnson went to Princeton to bring her daughter home.

When Gala opened the door, Johnson's heart broke. Gala was dressed in makeup, but it was not enough to cover the scars on her face.

"When we got it, it was in bad shape. I just let her eat and eat during the first two months she's been here, "Johnson said.

Although the use of Gala's substance had affected her body, she was still fair and clear, she still had aspirations and still loved the pink color.

One year later, Johnson is still grateful that he always answers when her daughter calls her.

Johnson is determined to work for changes in the health system, but he also wants to see changes in the way people treat each other. She wants to see forms of stronger communities and more respect for others.

"I just want to spread attention and compassion and help, just a new way of thinking about each other and treating each other and being with each other," she said.

"Let's connect the guns, hold on to me and let's start walking, I do not know where we're going, but let's start walking.

Johnson plans to launch a scholarship called the Gala Nadine Stewart Award for Social Work and Criminology students who are committed to social justice and legal reform. She hopes to help students make a difference for the lost souls in our world.

Moreover, she will continue to tell the story of Gala and will continue to struggle to improve health and mental health systems while people struggling have access to the help they need.

"Imagination is a powerful thing," Johnson read at the end of the glory of Gala. "This is a creative force that inspires life and stories, so we and I will not allow Gala to die, we will carry her spirit and do the job he wants to do.

Jericho Riddsdale met with Gala Stewart when he was 11, but did not become friends in years. The photo was provided by Jericho Riddsdale.


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