May 1, 2023
As overdose deaths continue to climb, calls for an end to the stigmatizing policies that exist as a byproduct of the failed war on drugs approach continue to grow. This vilifying approach needs to be replaced by a harm reduction-centered model to respond to the crisis with a greater sense of empathy, while respecting the individual’s right to self-determination, free from stigma and discrimination. Stigma is defined as “a set of negative and unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something”. To be stigmatized is to be held in contempt, shunned, or rendered invisible because of a socially disapproved status or behavior, for people who use drugs, stigma is a real barrier to a wide range of services and rights.
The film “Good People Use Drugs” which premiered on April 20th at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema, looks at how a harm reduction approach combats the devastating effects of the poisoned drug crisis and the underlining stigma people who use drugs face daily. The story is told through the voices of harm reduction workers, volunteers, and community members to reduce the misconceptions about substance use and people who use drugs.
Patti Wilson, the film’s director explains, “Substance use and addiction affects so many of us, and yet it’s something we’ve been conditioned to hide and pretend doesn’t happen. This documentary aims to remind those who watch that substance use has no moral implication, despite what our internalized bias may tell us. The ongoing overdose crisis can’t be combatted through criminalization, it’s a concern of healthcare and treating those who are suffering with kindness.”
Street Health’s own Kelly White, Harm Reduction Manager and Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) pioneer and Board member Peter Leslie were interviewed for the film. The pair took the opportunity to provide their expertise and insight to educate audiences about:
What makes a safe-consumption site “safe”, and what policies and services are in place to ensure individuals’ rights are respected?
The effectiveness of safe-consumption sites, backed up by statistics.
The stigma associated with substance use.
The politics of overdose prevention and what steps need to be taken to stop the overdose crisis.
Street Health recognizes that marginalized communities face systemic barriers to care and are historically underrepresented when it comes to decisions made about policies that directly affect them. As such, it is part of our organizational mandate to provide education around topics such as harm reduction, overdose prevention, and low-barrier care.
“Good People Use Drugs” challenges viewers’ assumptions and poses difficult questions as it explores new ways people on the frontlines are handling the overdose crisis.
Documentary films have the power to make viewers understand their subjects rather than simply identify with them. The filmmakers were bold in their choice to tackle this subject matter, it is one that is laden with misrepresentation. Street Health applauds Patti, Callum, and the whole crew, who completed this project as part of their Film Studies course at Humber College. Seeing bright creative people use their skills to create awareness about harm reduction, substance use, and homelessness gives us a lot of hope.
Click this link to see the film: https://youtu.be/odJCkeFygpY
About the Crew
Patti is a Writer/Director/Filmmaker who is passionate about social change and uplifting others through art. She has previously worked as the director of narrative short films exploring themes of mental illness and how it’s okay to let others know your struggling (Tell Me How You Feel, 2019). As a queer neurodivergent individual, she aims to create opportunities for others to share their stories and a safe environment to explore heavier themes. She’s worked previously as a director of photography throughout her years in film school, including a narrative monster movie about an unusual caregiver (Murphy, 2021) and a short documentary about menopause and how it affects women’s relationships with their bodies and sexuality (You-Turn, 2022).
Callum is an Editor/Producer/Filmmaker who strives to showcase relatable themes, equality, and community through visual mediums. He has previously worked as an editor (Noah, 2021) and production assistant on multiple narrative shorts throughout film school along with being an editor on a documentary about a man with cerebral palsy and his journey from childhood to get the healthcare he deserves (King Jerry, 2022). As someone who has grappled with and dealt with mental health, and healthcare issues in the past, making it an accessible topic is important to him. Callum aims to dig deeper and see stories past their surface level, along with creating a welcoming, fair, but thought-provoking atmosphere to his films.