Opioids Don’t Discriminate: Impact Story

Opioids Don’t Discriminate: Impact Story

A National and Local Opioid Crisis

From 2016 to March of 2020, there were 27 opioid-related deaths of Strathcona County residents. In June 2016, the Canadian Minister of Health described the increasing number of opioid-related deaths as a public health crisis. These startling local statistics and the increase in use across the country spoke to the need for local action.

In response, Strathcona County started to address this issue by asking “How can we better understand why and what pushes people to abuse substances that result in addiction?” and “How can we create more compassion and understanding for those struggling with this addiction?” To answer these questions, Strathcona County formed a Community Drug Strategy Committee to plan and execute a coordinated response to the crisis.

A New Way of Thinking about Addiction

Stakeholders, system leaders and citizens convened to dig deeper into the issue of fentanyl deaths and the broader topic of addictions. A committee was struck and together, 16 community organizations developed the Community Drug Strategy for Strathcona County following a four pillar approach; prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and community inclusion and safety.

Key to uncovering root causes of addictions and opioid-related deaths was to challenge the fundamental worldviews and assumptions that have driven our theories and opinions of addiction and subsequent actions for decades. What surfaced was a shift in thinking, recognizing that while existing systems and interventions are necessary, a new recipe for change is required. A new way of thinking emerged that is based on a collective ownership of the issue. It is a journey-based approach and recognizes that recovery is at the individual, family and community levels. It is based on the understanding that addictions do not discriminate; anyone in life regardless of social and economic status can develop an addiction. Progress involves moving from; addictions to connection; from isolation to inclusion; from stigma to compassion; and from shame to acceptance.


An Innovative Response to the Opioids Crisis

For two days in 2018 and four days in 2019, the Strathcona County Community Drug Strategy Committee ran Opioids Don’t Discriminate: An Interactive Exhibit (ODD). ODD took an innovative approach to raise awareness about the opioid crisis. The goals of the exhibit went beyond providing information. The exhibit aimed to

reduce stigma and increase empathy for those living with opioid misuse. It also aimed to inspire participants to act.

To achieve this, the exhibit took participants on a journey through the lives of three fictional characters who were impacted by opioid misuse. Exhibit participants were able to walk the paths of Max, David and Natasha, whose stories were based on the real-life experiences of people living in the opioid crisis in Strathcona County. Through vignettes posted on panels, models of environments such as a car accident, a teenager’s bedroom and an emergency room, and the use of prop objects like hockey skates and drink cans, the stories of these three characters came to life and left lasting impressions on visitors.


More than 1,200 participants visited the exhibit in Strathcona County. Pre and post-exhibit surveys indicate participants left the experience with a better understanding of the crisis and empathy for those living with substance misuse. One participant was quoted as saying “If I know someone struggling with opioid misuse, I will give them the support and help they need. Life gets hard and some people take life threatening measures. It’s okay not to be okay. There are ways to get your life back. The life you want, the life you deserve.”

The ODD exhibit has won both provincial and national awards, including the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta (FCSSAA) Award of Excellence and the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators Willis Award for Innovation. Since the exhibit wrapped up in the county, it has been travelling around Alberta and educating others due to its high demand. To support other communities to increase awareness and empathy on this challenging topic, Family and Community Services has also created a “Do it Yourself” kit that can be used in by community to create their own ODD exhibit.