Let’s Lead with Love not War

I am not writing to convince anyone that drug use is OK; that is a moral issue with no place in the argument for the effectiveness of public health initiatives like TweakeasyCBG and the Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) they have established in Cobourg. OPS will benefit people who use drugs and our community. This program will reduce the harm and minimize the impact on our community.


Don’t believe me… read the evidence:




I owned a retail store 500 feet from Toronto’s first unsanctioned OPS, this was our experience:

  • A vast decrease in needles and consumption of tools waste
  • Zero vandalism on our building
  • Increase of foot traffic in the area
  • Community kindness and caring
  • Zero incidents of  harassment threats or crime

As business owners, we met so many incredible humans. People who were pushed to the darkest corners of society for decades were reunited with sunshine and humans that lead with compassion. For many of them, it was one of the first times in years that they didn’t feel alone.

People across this country are dying. Parents, children, and siblings in Cobourg are dying from drug poisoning.

There seems to be a divide in our community on how to help. One group wants to help based on what they think works, and the other takes the lead from those that use drugs.

I am part of the latter.

Imagine you are on the roadside and running out of gas. Someone stops and says, “Hey, I have a can of diesel in the back of my car. I can help you out.” You turn to them and say, “no, thank you, my car takes regular.” They then look at you and say, “I am helping you; don’t be picky,” and then proceed to empty the diesel into your regular tank. They leave believing that not only did they help you by solving your problem, but they also found you ungrateful. However, by choosing not to listen to what help you need, they left you in a worse position than before.

This happens when we don’t listen to the people we are trying to help.

The group behind the OPS in Cobourg, have listened and heard, and are meeting the needs of those whose lives are at risk by providing a space that is not is tucked away in a dark corner of the community. They are giving people a place where they can use knowing that they are not alone. A space where they are treated with compassion and caring. A space where they are not judged by what they do, but appreciated for who they are.

Addiction treatment comes in all shapes and sizes. From the abstinence-only approach to various degrees of harm reduction. The reason is choice. Like most other diseases, the patient is part of their treatment plan. Why should it be any different for drug use?

We can no longer arrest our way out of addiction. The drug war has been going on for decades. It has failed, and it is not working.

Over the last two decades, there has been a movement of end-user lead help, and it has been a game changer for addiction.

For those of us that grew up during the Nancy Regan/Solei Moon-Fry “Say No to Drugs” era, it takes work to break down the systemic belief that drugs are bad, the user is bad, and the only road to redemption is abstinence.

Who can forget that commercial with a frying pan and a cracked egg.

“this is drugs, this is your brain on drugs.”

That was almost 50 years ago. We can no longer arrest our way out of addiction. It has failed, and it is not working. Let’s end the war and treat its victims as they ask, not as we impose.

OPS does not remove access to treatment.

OPS does not take away anyone’s recovery.

OPS is step in the spectrum of recovery.

OPS gives choices to heal.

If your position is one from a moral stand point on addiction, then I implore your moral code and treat people who have used drugs with respect. Take a moment and read the following from Health Canada :

How you can help. A small change can help reduce the cycle of stigma

Stigma around substance use can prevent people from getting the help that they need. You can help by:

Listening with compassion and without judgment, so a person who uses drugs feels heard and understood

Speaking up when someone is being treated disrespectfully because of their substance use; and

Being kind with the words you use. Words Matter. Use people first language.
  • Instead of “junkie” use “a person who uses drugs
  • Instead of “addict” use “people who have used drugs
  • Instead of “drug abuse” use “substance use

One of the first things I learned when I walked into a 12 step meeting was the definition of insanity.

“Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results”

It’s time to lead with love not war.



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