August 31 marked International Overdose Awareness Day. IOAD began as an annual event in Australia in 2001. At its core it is a day for remembering and a day for dialogue. For an increasing number of people the issue of overdose and overdose death is very close to home. I personally know far too many people who have died from opiate overdose. Although it seems inconceivable to most of us, overdose deaths are nearly tied with car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ontario. In other parts of North America more people die from overdoses than car crashes. What is most tragic about these statistics is that overdose deaths are preventable.
There are many things we can do to reduce overdose death rates. Practices like community naloxone distribution and supervised substance use services are now known to be scientifically sound and have proven to dramatically reduce overdose death rates. In order to for these programs to be successful we must first remove the moral lens through which substance use is viewed. I’ll delve into this more in a moment.
Human use of perception-altering substances is pre-historic. Substance use is associated with many cultural, religious, social and health related activities. Since the dawn of the Industrial Age when social, geographic and economic displacement became common-place in most European cultures, substances like alcohol and opioids have been used for relief of both physical and emotional pain. In the last three-hundred years our use of these substances has become increasingly compulsive. Scientists tell us this compulsion is related to diminished production in our brains of naturally occurring chemicals like dopamine and serotonin which are related to feelings of well-being, joy and peace. When we experience stressful events such as poverty, sudden loss and psychological trauma the brain becomes less capable of producing these feel-good chemicals. Humans know what to do when our serotonin and dopamine are depleted: we seek pleasurable activities, including compulsive eating of sweet and fatty foods, television watching, computer gaming, extreme sports, sex, online pursuits, shopping, gambling and the consumption of alcohol and other substances like opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and chocolate.
So, since all of these activities produce the same results for different people, why is the use of opiates, cocaine, cannabis and amphetamines judged as immoral or a sign of weakness by those of us who seek our dopamine and serotonin via other activities? It is because these substances are illegal. And why are they illegal? Surely it can’t be because they are bad for you – there are so many other compulsions we enact legally which are equally or perhaps more dangerous. Since this is not the time and place for me to go into a lengthy thesis about the utter failure of the so-called War-on-Drugs, I will leave these questions for you all to ponder at a later time.
Although we are not going to solve the War on Drugs today we should, at the very least, look at ways to remove the moral judgment that is applied to the use of these drugs. In doing so we can accept that harm reduction practice is the least good thing we can do to reduce overdose deaths. Education about the dangers of using these drugs as the sole measure of prevention is, despite its good intentions, a woefully inadequate measure. It is no more effective than any other campaign to prevent any cause of untimely death. Although abstinence works for some people for many others it is neither realistic nor desirable. This is especially true for people living in poverty and who experience homelessness and are deprived of safety and any sense of emotional well-being. People in these circumstances often find their best source of solace for a mountain of distress is the chemical alteration of their consciousness. To find fault in this very human response to seemingly inalterable turmoil is both indecent and hypocritical.
What is needed to reduce the high rate of overdose deaths, particularly among people who live in poverty and use opioids, are measures like community naloxone distribution programs and supervised substance use services. Once we remove our moral lens about substance use this much becomes crystal clear: finger pointing, blame and shame are not helpful and will not prevent overdose deaths from occurring.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. It temporarily reverses the effects of opioids and keeps opioid overdose victims alive until medical intervention is available. Naloxone is found in every ambulance, every emergency room and in many doctor’s offices throughout the world. Given Ontario’s growing epidemic of non-medical opioid use, naloxone should be available in every home. Community naloxone distribution is a practice that has already been in place for nearly twenty years. It involves training people who use substances like opiates, methamphetamine and cocaine, and their loved ones to administer naloxone. Participants are trained in CPR and learn how to properly administer naloxone where ever it is needed. Once trained, participants carry naloxone, along with a certificate showing they have been trained to administer naloxone.
Naloxone works for the sole purpose of temporarily reversing the effects of opioids, including respiratory arrest which is what causes opioid overdose death. It has no other use and is only dangerous to the one in a million persons who are allergic to it. Community naloxone distribution programs have saved many thousands of lives. Participants in the training also feel more a part of their communities and have often reduced their substance use to a more manageable level. Community naloxone distribution makes sense on every level. I think Londoners should demand such programs here.
Most of us are aware of supervised substance use programs such as Insite in Vancouver. These services prevent overdose deaths every day. They should be regarded as essential services for people experiencing poverty and homelessness who use illegal substances. Many of us in this city see the need for such a program here. I firmly believe that the presence of community naloxone distribution and supervised substance use would have prevented the deaths of just about all the people whose loss we grieve on International Overdose Awareness Day. Please look inside your hearts and consider what may be possible if we look at this issue in the absence of judgment and misunderstanding.
For more information please visit our Topic - Substance Use & Addiction.
I’m in the process of completing my Master of Environmental Studies at York University. Over the past year I’ve been studying the intersection of social exclusion and education. This has led me towards wanting to understand some of the complexities of youth homelessness in Canada.
This summer I have had the opportunity to work with Research Impact and the Homeless Hub developing a number of research summaries on homelessness. I may have written one from a recent study of yours (with your consent of course), or you may see some of the summaries that I’ve developed through social media, as I’m sure you all ‘like’ the Homeless Hub and ‘follow’ Research Impact on Twitter.
When I tell people that I translate academic journals into clear language, or that I work in knowledge mobilization, they frequently follow up with several questions. My friends, maybe even some of my family members, often don’t understand what I do. So I’ve prepared this process infographic to demonstrate what I have done over the summer. I have chosen to use the jovial Comic Sans font despite the fact that it is seldom used for communications work due to its bubbly appearance.
Now, this infographic isn’t meant to be overly specific about clear language writing. Most of the major sections that I’ve outlined include a complexity of their own. Below are some of the things that I have omitted.
Finding the Articles:
- Prior to finding the articles priorities have to be selected on the topics that are summarized. This has to do with the thoughts of the KMb unit, but also the needs of partners in the community. In this case, the partnership was with the Homeless Hub.
- This is pretty straight forward, as all of the summaries are published under ‘creative commons’, most researchers give consent and are really excited about working with Research Impact.
Draft Writing Stage:
- This stage requires clear language writing skills. This process began for me with clear language training. I also had ongoing support from a colleague who is also a very talented translator and educator.
Finalizing the Draft:
- The templates that are utilized both for Research Impact ‘ResearchSnapshots’ and 'Research Summaries' on the Homeless Hub have taken a great deal of thought and work to develop.
Engaging researchers in the summary process, really has made this a great experience. However, what I’ve enjoyed the most has been working with the all-star KMb and Homeless Hub teams at York University. Through my involvement with Research Impact I now see many opportunities for Knowledge Mobilization to grow. It is important to continue bridging divides between academic institutions, community organizations and policy makers.
We have an upcoming 'Write for the Reader' workshop that can help you write more clearly and allow you to develop such research summaries. Visit this link for more information.
It’s back to school time for many students and educators out there. Last week’s “Ask the Hub” blog post covered some important information for going back to school: "Where can teachers and students find resources for school using the Homeless Hub?" This post outlines how the Homeless Hub can be a resource for students (and teachers) who are returning to school and looking for some extra information on teaching, researching or studying homelessness.
Last week's "Infographic of the Week" can be an important resource for organizations that are looking to broaden their reach through the use of social media. The document outlines the way that hashtags can be used effectively (and ineffectively). This information can be a great resource, and important to keep in mind when trying to reach people with content that is relevant to them.
This article by Iryn Tushabe outlines a couple of the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness in Regina. One of the individuals in the report is living with both HIV and Hepatitis C. For more information on hepatitis and homelessness see this previous Homeless Hub post for World Hepatitis Day.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta released their progress report on their 10 year plan to end homelessness. Wood Buffalo has been successfully using a Housing First approach in order to end homelessness. The document outlines goals that have contributed to a 40.6% decrease in homelessness between 2008-2012.
Cindy Chan, from the Winnipeg Free Press, wrote this piece on Housing First, discussing how the program has helped house those experiencing homelessness who have a mental illness. The article interviews Housing First participant Joe Hatch. To learn more about Joe’s story you can take a look at this 2012 piece featured on the Here at Home blog.
It’s #BTS time!
That’s “Back to School” for those not up on their acronyms. We’re often asked how teachers and students can make use of the Homeless Hub for their work and studies. So this week’s Ask the Hub isn’t a response to a formal question but rather one that is raised often with us.
- Use the Homeless Hub library. With over 30,000 resources, the Homeless Hub is the largest repository of homelessness information in the world. And much of it is Canadian.
- Research the Topics sections. These topics — which will be going through a revamp this year — provide a summary of key points of information and link to articles that can be used for further information.
- Get geographical information through the Community Profiles. The 61 CABs that receive funding from the federal government each have a profile on the Hub which lists current stats and reports related to that community.
- Explore our Curriculums. We have ideas for elementary and secondary schools and useful factsheets for students. Next week we will be releasing updated curriculum units and later on this year we will be working on a resource for post-secondary institutions and students as well. Keep a look-out for those!
- Check for Research Summaries. When you don’t have a lot of time, our research summaries take a long paper (like this one here) and turn it into a 2 page summary (pictured on the right). We even did this with our Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice book chapters! Check out this great chapter 2 summary.
We are here to help. Don’t forget to send your questions to the Hub for our Friday Ask the Hub series.
Today's infographic is on using hashtags, which comes from a blog post directly by Twitter. Hashtags, almost synonymous with Twitter, can work to enhance a marketing strategy or a campaign. "The brands that create the most effective ones and employ them well reap the benefits on Twitter. Those who haven’t invested the time and thought carefully about their hashtag(s) and how they are going to be used get predictable results."
This step-by-step graphic follows the process of using a hashtag in your tweets. It leads you through various paths that can help evaluate whether the hashtag will be important to your audience or not. Choosing one hashtag over another can increase a tweet's influence and bring new followers who will continue the conversation on your chosen topic. An important thing to remember is that hashtags have to be memorable, so your participants will be inclined to use it. Promoting your hashtag can increase its memorability or you might want to use one that is already in use, as long as you're adding valuable content to the conversation.
The infographic below can help you decide whether your hashtag is worth pursuing or what further steps to take once you have decided. Click the image to enlarge.
The Homeless Hub is quite active on twitter and we have seen great success in using it to get our content out to a wider audience. We also use a variety of hashtags in our daily tweets and have even created our own for events and special report releases.
Our most successful one was #sohc2013 which was used extensively by our account and others for the launch of our State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report. We attribute its success to our early promotion leading up to the release and making sure to encourage others to use that hashtag when mentioning the report. With Facebook now also using hashtags we were able to promote its use there as well. It's hard to calculate whether using the hashtag itself made a difference, but it did create a connector word for the coversation about the report.
We are always learning new techniques and ways to use social media and we have seen our campaigns not turn out the way we predicted. We used the hashtag #PROOF to promote the release of Household Food Insecurity in Canada 2011 which didn't really circulate through Twitter. We used that hashtag because it represented the name of the organization (PROOF) that authored and released the report. The trouble was, it didn't seem to work with the current conversation that was happening with that hashtag, it seemed that #foodinsecurity was actually favoured by the audience. It was a lesson learned and showed us that choosing the right hashtag takes thought and consideration.
Using a hashtag can help you get the message out about your research to a wider audience and even connect you to researchers working on the same topic. With these benefits in sight it's surely worth a try. Next time you are looking to use a hashtag in your tweets consider using the above infographic for tips.
Content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License
The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.