Ashlee Cousins doesn’t want to lose another friend to a drug overdose.
“I have buried six of my friends in the last year,” said the Sarnia woman. “There never used to be overdoses the way there is now — we’d maybe hear of one every two years. But now, people are dying left, right and centre. It’s a crisis.”
The 37-year-old has been living in recovery for 12 years now, and recently joined the Community Law School Sarnia-Lambton Social Justice Advocacy Group.
Cousins is one of the driving members behind a petition launched last month calling for a permanent residential addictions treatment centre in Sarnia.
The document, addressed to Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo, urges the province to immediately release funding for the proposed 24-bed facility — which the community has been seeking for more than two decades.
“People I talk to about this petition say, ‘Why now?’” said Margaret Capes, a retired lawyer who heads the Community Law School.
“And I say, open up the newspaper every night — that’s enough for me. I’m seeing [death notices of] young people in particular every week, sometimes two or three times a week. And it doesn’t take long for me to make one phone call to people who might know — and it’s largely opioid overdoses.
“If that’s not enough of an incentive I don’t know what is.”
The group met recently with Bailey, who told the Journal last week: “It’s out of the bureaucrats hands and in the Minister’s office, so I’m very confident that we’re going to hear very shortly what we want to hear.”
Social Justice Advocacy Group member Corinne Thompson said she hopes the petition, which has already collected 1,500 signatures, will push the government to come through on its commitment.
“The destruction of families, the long waitlists for treatment — we’ve been waiting too long,” said the Sarnia woman, who has also lost a number of friends to drug overdoses.
Capes said she’s proud of the group members, who don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“They’re going to keep pushing — they’ve got a game plan to just keep the pressure on until the money arrives,” she said, pointing to plans to meet MP Marilyn Gladu in the New Year. “In our view, this isn’t just a provincially funded facility, because we have three First Nations in our community and federal government money is used for Indigenous services.
“There’s going to be some Indigenous people using this facility and they can’t just not be involved in that conversation.”
Cousins said local programs are insufficient.
“Sure, I can walk into an NA (narcotics anonymous) meeting, but you meet probably the best drug dealers there,” she said. “And so many programs are Christian-based, but some people don’t need that.”
It wasn’t until she landed at a rehabilitation centre in Algoma that she got clean, and has been in recovery ever since.
“I’m a recovering addict, but I’m in recovery every day. I don’t do drugs anymore, but I’m still recovering,” she said, stressing residents here shouldn’t have to travel out of town to get help.
“I wasn’t fortunate to have family support around me because I had to go so far away. I feel like having a local treatment centre is way better and more beneficial,” she said. “If we don’t address this now, it’s going to get worse and worse.
“It’s hitting young kids,” she continued. “That should be enough for the government to take action.”
To sign the petition, visit: https://chng.it/wvcfCNSqZk