Considering how her life was going in September, Kati Mather made an improbable appearance at a vigil to reflect on fentanyl deaths in Vancouver and push for more long-term treatment for addicts.
"If I didn't choose to get clean when I did, then I'd probably be dead today, and that's thanks to treatment," said Mather, 22, on Saturday from the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
She spoke candidly about her addiction and the risk that came with it.
"I overdosed 17 times," said Mather, who added that for the past seven years she has used oxycontin, heroin and then finally only fentanyl.
"Being close to death and going down to the place I was at has made me really want to change and as an addict, really the only way that you can get better is that you really have to want it."
Mather is now in a long-term treatment program at Westminster House, along with her twin sister, Jessi.
Alongside a small group of other recovering addicts, they lit candles on Saturday at an event put on by Recovery Day B.C., an organization that advocates for abstinence-based treatment programs.
The group observed a moment of silence for the thousands of people risking their lives everyday in the city by taking dangerous, illicit opioids.
The event came two days after 13 people — nine in Vancouver — died from overdoses linked to fentanyl. There have been 159 deaths associated with the drug in Vancouver so far this year.
The Mather sisters concede they could easily be part of those statistics, which now include their 16-year-old cousin, who overdosed this past fall.
"She didn't have the opportunity to go to treatment or get the help that she needed," said Jessi.
The Mathers say they had entered into harm-reduction programs and did drug replacement therapies, but claim they provided no success in kicking their addictions.
"It didn't help, it didn't help at all," said Kati, who added that it wasn't until they got on a abstinence-based program that they saw results.
It took the sisters two years to get into the program, which used suboxone to transition them off fentanyl.
"Honestly it was the easiest thing I ever did," said Kati. "You want to talk about how hard the program is? How hard is it to wake-up every morning and have to go get dope?
"That's hard. That's a hard life. This is the easiest thing. I'm happy today and it's because of the program that I'm in and it's easier than the seven years I was in misery."
The Mathers weren't the only former addicts at the vigil where several spoke of their own recoveries and the need for more long-term treatment programs.
"For a long time harm reduction has been the number one priority to combat addiction and recovery kind of got left behind," said Giuseppe Ganchi with Recovery Day B.C.
On Friday, Vancouver's mayor, along with the chief of police, called on the province to do more to fund long-term treatment, while Premier Christy Clark described the overdose crisis as a complex issue that requires more police and treatment options. But Clark stopped short of promising more money or programs.
In 2002, the provincial government deregulated the recovery home industry.
In September, it announced $5 million to establish a new British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) which will focus on addiction research, health provider education and clinical care guidance.
Marshall Smith, chair of the British Columbia Recovery Council, said that will be a helpful investment, but more is needed.
A recent investigation by CBC News revealed the system to be a patchwork and confusing for families seeking help.
- What we learned phoning every drug rehab facility in British Columbia
- Are there enough beds for drug treatment in B.C.?
In meantime, the Mather sisters hope their recovery will continue and want others to know that it's worth fighting to get help.
"There's a better way, there's an easier way at life and you don't have to continue living the way that you are living," said Kati. "I know that it's hard, but there's help out there ... it's going to save your life because it saved mine."