Addicts helping addicts: navigating the perilous road of drug recovery

The Vancouver Recovery Club has been hit hard by the opioid crisis: it's a place where former addicts help people struggling to get clean.

'It's a place that's safe and comfortable. Even if that means going to to a meeting to stay clean for an hour'

Tim Pittmann, president of the Vancouver Recovery Club, has been sober for 17 years. He's spent the last 11 years with the club that helps others in recovery. (Farrah Merali)

Tim Pittmann shuffles through stacks and stacks of paper at his office at the Vancouver Recovery Club. This week he's planning three funerals. Since the overdose crisis began, Pittmann, the club's president, says staff there have organized so many celebrations of life that they've lost count.

"Honestly, I'm not even sure anymore. It seems to be a different one every week, sometimes two," said Pittmann.

"We see people that are there one minute and they're gone forever the next."

Since the fentanyl crisis began, the Vancouver Recovery Club has planned countless celebrations of life for former members who have died. (Farrah Merali)

People struggling to get clean from an addiction come to the The Vancouver Recovery Club. Many of the volunteers and staff are former addicts who offer help through meetings and events.

"The best person to understand the mind of an addict is another addict who has cleaned up his life" said Pittmann.

Pittmann has been sober for 17 years and says that's the only thing that helped him achieve recovery. Many people who visit the club are waiting to get into treatment and don't have a place to go for support in the mean time.

The club is a non-profit organization that receives funding from Vancouver Coastal Health. (Farrah Merali)

"We try to keep them around until they get into detox or a recovery house. After they get a spot, we do this job training thing where we get them volunteering at the canteen... this way they're getting volunteer experience and retail experience."

Pittmann says the overdose deaths from the fentanyl crisis have taken a toll on volunteers and staff.

"Our alcohol and drug counsellor gets absolutely swamped because people are losing their friends."

He admits while it's difficult, it's also a reminder of how important it is to have peer-to-peer counselling.

"It sure lets me know that I'm doing the right thing," said Pittmann.

"I wouldn't survive if I went back out there."

The fear of relapse

28-year-old Brooke Anderson came out of treatment for a fentanyl addiction and has been clean for four months. She says she's been using drugs since she was 16.

"I came to a point when I woke up and said I can't keep doing this to myself. I'm going to either die or I'm going to keep using until I die," said Anderson.

She volunteers at the Vancouver Recovery Club and goes to meetings daily because she says it helps her feel normal.

Brooke Anderson, 28, has been in recovery for four months and visits the club every day. (Farrah Merali)

Anderson says many of the people she knows who have fatally overdosed on fentanyl did so after a period of sobriety.

"It's addicts in recovery that are relapsing and dying," said Anderson

"It's not a pretty drug and it's getting more and more powerful."

Anderson says the thought of relapsing is terrifying, but knowing she isn't alone helps her get through the fear.

"It's a place that's safe and comfortable. Even if that means going to to a meeting to stay clean for an hour."