August 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day – a global event held each year that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
YWCA Hamilton’s housing staff see the impacts of drug use on our clients and patrons every day. To mark International Overdose Awareness Day, we are taking a deeper look at some of the factors that can contribute to drug use, particularly for women and non-binary people, in the hopes of creating empathy and erasing the stigma that surround this issue.
For women and non-binary people, the link between drug use and homelessness is highly individualized – however, for many, drug use and homelessness are both tied to trauma. Many start using drugs initially to numb and cope with the pain they have experienced, whether in abusive situations or past trauma they experienced in childhood.
Here are some examples of how drug use and trauma can become linked for women and non-binary people:
- Some women and non-binary people in abusive relationships begin using drugs due to pressure or coercion by their partner. This is a mechanism of control for the abusive person, resulting in the woman’s addiction and vulnerability. Women also often use substances initially to numb and cope with the trauma they have faced, whether in abusive situations or past trauma they experienced in childhood.
- Women are far more likely to depend on a male partner or friend to facilitate their drug use (peer injecting) leaving them vulnerable and unsafe to drug poisoning, control, exploitation, and disease.
- Women and gender diverse folks who use drugs and are engaged in sex work are more likely to have their vulnerability exploited in their work, leaving them at risk for being sex trafficked. Traffickers gain trust, power, control and money if a woman who is addicted is unable to leave or get help due to their drug use.
- Many people with untreated mental health issues are also using illicit substance due to barriers to treatment for their diagnoses, self medicating, or a variety of reasons. Often, those who struggle with mental health ussies, developmental or cognitive challenges, or folks with head injury, are accessing homelessness services in increasing numbers due to gaps in services and lack of stable, safe and affordable housing options with supports. This leaves them vulnerable to trying substances on the street.
It’s our hope that by shining a light on the link between trauma and drug use, we can begin to create a more empathetic, understanding conversation about supporting those in our community who use drugs. We will continue to advocate for increased supports for people who use drugs, including more access to affordable housing, non-judgmental medical supports, and supervised consumption sites.
For more information, and to learn more about those working to end the stigma around drug use in Hamilton, please visit the following local resources: