CARBONEAR, NL — This year alone, 10 people who've attended meetings at Carbonear's U-Turn Drop-In Centre have died.
The non-profit group helps addicts through the recovery process and also supports family members. Executive director Jeff Bourne likens the U-Turn community to a family, which makes the loss of those it tries to help especially difficult.
"Anybody that knows me knows I love each and every one of you that comes to U-Turn," said Bourne. "We are a family, and I do sit down, and I do reflect on our last conversations. And one of the things that keeps coming in my mind is, 'Jeff, I'm going to give this up. If not, I'm going to die.' Next thing, I see them in the obituaries."
Tuesday night, members of the U-Turn community joined community representatives and emergency responders for the organization's second annual walk to recognize National Addictions Awareness Week.
Speaking with the Compass after the walk reached the Knights of Columbus building, Bourne identified the need to raise awareness about addictions issues as the primary reason to hold the event.
"It's out there, it's time for people to get their heads out of the sand and raise awareness and then break down this wall of stigma that's attached to addictions in the Conception Bay North area."
From May of 2016 to April of this year, U-Turn came in contact with just over 6,000 people.
One ongoing problem for people fighting addiction is the way others perceive them, said Bourne.
"Words do matter when we're talking about people struggling with the disease of addiction. I always say this, that we're not bad people, we're sick people trying to get well. And anybody else who has got any other disease in the world, they get the love and compassion.
"Unfortunately, if you do have the disease of both mental health and addictions, you're kind of judged."
Bourne attributes this way of thinking to a lack of education, suggesting it's an issue many fail to fully grasp until it affects a family member.
"When you're personally affected, then you've got a heart for the people that suffer with addictions," he said.
Through U-Turn, Bourne has watched families get closer and addicts return to the workforce with newfound determination, all the while maintaining ties to the support network his organization offers.
Const. Mo Agha of the Harbour Grace RCMP detachment, one of several guest speakers at Tuesday's event, spoke of losing family members to addiction and mental health battles.
"I've taken that and tried to learn from it," he said. "And those of you who have to put up with me, I'm hoping that comes out. Because at the end of the day, the way I look at things … we are here to help. Our first priority is to make everything safe … Then, the next thing is, how can we help."
Agha said there's no harm in dropping by the station to speak with an officer, even if it's just to vent, because it helps keep officers connected to the community.
"Myself, I have some people who stop by the detachment … all they need to do is vent or chat," the constable said. "Us taking that 15-to-20 minutes, or a half-hour with a cup of coffee, sitting down and having a chat, sometimes it helps them. And honestly, it helps us too, because it keeps us connected."
Bourne now has a role to play in fighting addictions issues that goes beyond the Conception Bay North region. He was recently appointed to the provincial government's new Recovery Council. That group will work on the province's Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan.
Bourne hopes that plan will include an expansion of the lived-experience model for recovery U-Turn is a part of, with similar operations spreading across Newfoundland and Labrador.
Carbonear-Trinity-Bay de Verde MHA Steve Crocker commended Bourne on being appointed to the new council.
"I can tell you on behalf of (Health Minister John Haggie), he's a great supporter of Jeff and the work he does and (U-Turn co-founder) Tammy Bourne and everything that happens here at U-Turn. I can tell you as a parent in this region of two teenage boys, there are serious challenges, and as a parent, I worry every day that my kids will take the wrong path and not have the supports that are needed."