How Injury and Tragedy led to Substance Use

February 26, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

“I was working in the automotive industry; about 1,500 guys were working there all at once,” says John. “When you have that many guys, something’s going to be available.”

There’s a common misconception that people living with substance use-related challenges do not have jobs. This is false: according to the BC Coroners Service, 44% of the people who died of overdose in B.C. between 2016 and 2017 were employed at the time of death.

In fact, for a lot of people, including John, workplace injury is often one of many chapters in the story of how they came to experience addiction.

"I got a work injury, and I got prescribed painkillers for it,” reflects John. “Then something happened with the BBQ. I burnt my arm and had to have surgery for that. That’s when I got prescribed bottles of pills. When they ran out, I would get dope from guys at work."

But I know what really keeps me using…My son committed suicide when he was 22. That tragedy compiled with previous use. It just got worse and worse.

Even as John began to use more drugs and suffered personal injuries and traumas, his work became a source of strength.

“I was a working addict. Never missed a shift, never screwed anything up,” John says. “That never changed. I still work every day. It keeps me going.”

John has things in common with many people at risk of overdose. About 80% of people who died of an overdose in B.C. in 2018 were men. John also uses drugs alone at home – reflecting the fact that 86% of people that died of overdoses were indoors at the time of death, and 69% used drugs alone.

He works in a physically-demanding job (55% of those who had jobs when they died worked in the trades and transport industries) and he received medical treatment for pain (as did more than half of the 79% of people who had contact with health services in the year before they died).

John has seen a lot of men struggling with substance use try to cope with their challenges on their own. “A lot of guys have big egos,” he says. “They have too much pride to ask for help… they don’t want to feel ashamed.”

This experience has given him unique insight into what must be done to reach and protect people most at risk of overdose. It all starts with compassion and conversation.

Addiction should be brought up a lot more in society…People look down on people who use drugs. There should be more people with an attitude to help. I’m here to help – talk to me and I’ll talk to you, I won’t turn my back.

John shared his story in the Behind the Numbers research project, in which people with lived experience using drugs and healthcare service providers offered their perspectives to help further understanding of substance use and addiction in B.C.

Learn more about the Behind the Numbers project.

Read the Behind the Numbers stories book.