The Work to Recover from Opioids: Here is Annie's Story

Opioid addiction is an ongoing epidemic. 

And during the pandemic, it has grown immensely. 

Last November alone, 153 people in B.C. died of a suspected drug overdose. That’s an 89 per cent increase in overdose deaths compared to the previous November. The majority of these are from opioids. 

People like Kathryn and Annie, who work at the United Way-supported agency, AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) Health and Community Services Nanaimo, have seen the toll the pandemic is taking on the people they help. 

Annie and Kathryn WEB SIZE.jpg“There have been a lot of deaths last year,” says Kathryn (on the right in this photo), noting that, with borders closed, the drug supply has become extremely dangerous.  

“People are concocting god-knows-what,” says Annie (on the left in this photo). “At one point, there was a batch of crushed glass mixed with something else that was being sold as heroine.” 

But, with funding from United Way and the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, AVI Nanaimo has been able to keep doing its vital work in treating those addicted to opioids. 

AVI provides an Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) therapy program – a medical and social support program that provides those addicted to opioids with medication that allows them to quit using opioids with less withdrawal pain and risk of death. Equally important is the support provided by doctors, nurses and workers like Kathryn, says Annie. 

Annie would know: before providing this help to others, she went through the program herself. 

This is her story: 

“I was a wife and mom for a lot of years, and had some bad things happen in my life, including a bunch of deaths in my family,” Annie recounts.  

“My life fell apart.” 

“I was living in Nanaimo with no support, ended up in the drug scene. A friend told me about AVI, so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll make an appointment,’ ... That was about four years ago now.” 

“It’s not an easy thing to do, at all,” she says. 

“At first it seemed like every time I would come in, I was crying all the time. The only way I can think about is that I had gone through this war, it seemed like – a war with myself, with society, with my family … I did a lot of mourning and crying.” 

“It was scary and actually physically painful,” she says. “And really lonely, because I couldn’t hang out with the people that were doing drugs anymore.” 

“Imagine somebody coming to tell you, ‘To save your life, today, you have to stay away from everyone …‘. It’s almost like the pandemic,” she says. 

“But … having the support of AVI, my doctor and the workers here, really helped a lot. And I’m getting all emotional here because I’m so grateful for the help that I got here, and for how my life has changed. 

“I don’t know how else to say how grateful I am to be alive.” 

It’s critical that lifesaving supports like AVI’s OAT program continue. That’s why United Way continues to support this program. 

But continued funding and donations are needed to keep it and other programs going. 

When you give to United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, you support important local programs like this one in your community. If you can, please consider donating today. 

Annie has one more way you can help these people in need: 

“The only thing that I just want to say is, just for everybody out there to love these people. Just love them. Really, they are out there lost and, essentially, they are needing to be loved.”