Fed up with attending funerals for friends and loved ones, people in the vanguard of B.C.’s overdose crisis have made a podcast to file dispatches about important stories they say the public and policy-makers are missing.
Crackdown, a new podcast recorded in Vancouver, launched its first episode, “War Correspondents,” on Wednesday. It starts by telling the story of Zoë Dodd, a harm-reduction activist who confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about addressing the national overdose crisis, and introduces listeners to the drug-user activists who make up the podcast’s editorial board.
It explores some of the agony caused by government inaction.
“The crisis has just taken so many people and it just keeps going, it’s not stopping, it’s spreading,” said Garth Mullins, Crackdown’s executive producer, writer and host. “I’ve lost 50 people that I came up with, at least. I just stopped counting at 50.”
Mullins, who for years used heroin and then methadone, said one goal of the podcast was to shed the stigma and challenge perceptions about people who use drugs.
“Drug users are everywhere — in your church, in your community, in your workplace — but the stereotype that you see in a lot of television production is a gritty back alley with somebody shooting up,” he said. “We don’t feel that’s a good representation.”
Mullins said media coverage often falls into two categories, one scapegoating drug users as “a destructive scourge on society,” and another which “pities drug users as just helpless waifs.”
With Crackdown, listeners will get to know the drug-user activists who have fought for supervised injections sites, needle distribution and prescription heroin programs. They will take back some agency by telling their own stories.
Mullins said the podcast will remain grounded in research and data from its science adviser, Ryan McNeil, who is an assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of B.C. and a research scientist at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.
The podcast is aimed at Canadians impacted by the overdose crisis, but Mullins said he hopes it also reaches the ears of those in charge of making policy that could save lives, who he believes the media often let off too easy.
“The other audience for us is Justin Trudeau, the federal cabinet … Doug Ford and all the people who are running Ontario and trying to cap safe-injection sites,” he said. “The audience is John Horgan and the government of B.C., who are not acting fast enough to do something about this — the people who have their hands on the levers.”
Dean Wilson, a longtime activist who in 2011 successfully fought a federal government appeal to shut down the Insite supervised injection site, sits on Crackdown’s editorial board and brings two decades of Downtown Eastside knowledge to the podcast.
“We’ve always been written about and the story has always been about us, but the narrative has never been ours,” Wilson said. “This is a way of setting our own narratives.”
New episodes are released on the last Wednesday of each month, and can be downloaded on most podcast apps or streamed at crackdownpod.com.
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