Reporter's Notebook: people in Kamsack, Sask., reach out to discuss drug crisis
Drug users, former drug users, methadone patients quick to open up on crisis around Kamsack, Sask.
Nobody wants you to come to their community and tell the rest of the world about the local drug problem, until they do.
On the road to Kamsack, Sask., Wednesday, CBC videographer Kirk Fraser and I discussed whether people would want us telling their stories.
We'd heard that drug use was at crisis levels in the area, and were told methadone patients often line up waiting for the pharmacies to open.
We made a plan to approach people without our camera and microphone and ask them if they wanted to share anything.
We guessed that people might not be interested in sharing their experiences and made backup plans for how we could research and tell our story if we weren't welcome in the area.
We didn't see any lineups, but we did see people visiting near a couple of pharmacies. Cameras and news vehicles often attract attention and questions and immediately people walking by started asking what we were doing. When we said we were in town to talk about the drug problem, something unexpected happened.
Everyone we spoke to had a story about drugs in the lives of people they knew. They took it one step further and told us of their own experiences.
The first man we spoke with was a recovering addict himself.
"I was addicted to alcohol, later progressed to prescription drugs," Thomas Quewezance said. He told us of his personal struggle to find traditional ways to help him become sober.
Another woman, Hillary Cote said, "I'm just going to go ahead and go to detox and go straight to treatment."
She's 20 years old and has a two-year-old son. She doesn't have custody of him right now, due to her drug problem, but she'd like to get him back.
She said it's been hard for her to quit drugs, because so many people she knows take them.
"It's everywhere. It's hard to try and quit cold turkey because it's everywhere you go," she said.
I chatted with Loretta Quewezance and her partner as they went to get a dose of methadone, a drug that's used to wean addicts off narcotics but sometimes brings its own problems.
She said she's been on methadone for 12 years, but she sees it as a positive in her life.
"People look at the bad in it, but you also have to look at the good that it's done for the community. A lot of women and even men wouldn't have their kids," she said.
She also said while methadone has improved some aspects of her life, she says her life revolves around obtaining it.
Looking for an outlet
As journalists we're often meeting people on the best or worst day of their life, and talking about their major triumphs and their painful struggles.
We aim to share those stories to help us learn more about our home, our neighbours and the places where we live, but I'm always aware that it's not easy to be on the other side of my microphone and questions.
Sometimes it's even difficult to find someone who will tell us how they feel about the Roughriders or the weather, never mind difficult social issues.
But when people approached us (without being asked) to talk about their addiction, and to talk about managing that addiction with a prescription they're not sure they could quit, we learned the struggles and mental health issues in the area are no exaggeration. It's very real, and it affects so many more people than the small sample of locals we spoke with on our one-day visit.
We also spoke with an FSIN senator, some elders, some addictions workers and the treatment director of a nearby wellness centre in Cote First Nation that's offering some hope for people using drugs and other ways to medicate themselves.
Cote is opening 19 beds on April 11 and will begin inpatient addiction treatment. They're asking for governments to take another look at how people are treated for drug abuse in the area.
But treatment director Yvonne Howse also offered some insight into why these small communities near Kamsack may be dealing with such constant and rampant drug-related problems.
She spoke of generational trauma including a history of residential schools, violence, and some people constantly grieving loved ones as people near them go through similar trauma in their lives. That, she said, is what leads people into addictions.
"How do you survive that as you're growing up? Most people just numb themselves. Most people get to a place of just dehumanization and really just kind of leave the world, mentally and emotionally, because they just want to survive," she said.
It's something that's difficult to show in numbers. Drug overdose deaths counted by the coroner's office show eight people died as a result of drug overdoses in Kamsack and on Keeseekoose and Cote First Nation in the past five years.
But those numbers only count people who died in those places, and doesn't include deaths that were determined as other causes but may have had some connection to drugs.
So far, we've only seen one draft report counting the number of methadone patients in the area. It said 263 people from Key, Cote and Keeseekoose took methadone in 2011. It's important to balance our stories with numbers, facts and figures to help prove the personal side of the story.
On the other hand, a short walk down the street in Kamsack can tell you drugs are a major concern for everyone we met on Wednesday morning. Loretta Quewezance, Hillary Cote and Thomas Quewezance approached our camera and told us their experience about losing loved ones to drugs, violence and undergoing personal trauma, such as surviving house fires and losing custody of their children, and their own battles with addiction.
It's more than a one-day story for these people. And we know when we turn our news cameras off, they're still living with it.