Out in the Open

One front line worker asks friends to call her when they use alone

Christine Zinni is a harm reduction worker and a former addict coping with the death of both her friends and her clients.
Christine Zinni is a harm reduction worked in the Toronto neighbourhood Parkdale. (Courtesy of Christine Zinni)

"I'm starting to not know how to cope with it anymore," says Christine Zinni, a harm reduction worker at Parkdale Community Health Centre and a former user herself.

"I'm becoming numb I guess you can say... I don't want to become indifferent to death."

In six weeks, Christine says she's lost six friends, mainly to fentanyl. 

She's begged friends to not use alone, but she says the stigma associated with drug use is just too strong.  

"If they have to (use alone, I ask them) to give me a shout, give me a call. Let me know what they're up to. If they don't call me back within 10 minutes, then I know something is wrong and I need to call an ambulance, or whatever the next step may be." 

Christine says friends who use are terrified of getting something laced with fentanyl but that it's not easy to quit. She describes drug use as a coping mechanism often complicated by chronic poverty, isolation and marginalization.

Christine carries naloxone in her purse everywhere she goes and has had to use it multiple times, including at work in the washroom where someone overdosed. 

Christine says that staff now check the washrooms at Parkdale Community Health Centre every half hour. 

"If somebody is in the washroom for too long, we start to get worried. I knock and I wait for a response. If they don't respond, then I'm getting in here."