A B.C. man who was struggling with opioid use and jailed for bank robbery is seeking to debunk drug addiction stigma and says people struggling with it need not be afraid.
Christopher Lamoureux is about to begin studying to become a peer support worker at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo. Lamoureux said he’s previously used illicit drugs, including cocaine and fentanyl and wasn’t thinking clearly when he robbed a pair of banks, a Tim Hortons shop, and was involved in a police chase near Victoria in September 2019.
He hopes his can be a cautionary tale.
“My frame of mind was out of being afraid, being alone, literally terrified,” Lamoureux said when recounting the events. “Even when I think about the nature of my recovery program, I guess, scared, devious … It was like wanting to run, wanting to hide, not wanting to come forward, not wanting to see. Having graduated from BCIT, working for the federal government, doing all of these things to try and better my life and there I was, in the worst state I’ve ever been.”
It was recently National Addictions Awareness Week and according to Lamoureux, there is stigma surrounding addiction, something he experienced shortly after being arrested. He was taken to the hospital, handcuffed, witnessing people staring at him thinking he was, “this criminal that just wasn’t worthy of a life.”
“They had no idea that I was employed with federal governments, I was employed by the community coast guard, I just hit a bump in my recovery … addiction is running rampant in our society today and addiction affects all walks of life,” said Lamoureux. “Going through the whole process of being admitted into [the psychiatric emergency ward], and being known as someone who struggles with substance misuse, you’re just looked at differently.
“Sometimes the level of care that you get, it’s not equal to the care that you would get if you were not somebody who struggled with substance misuse.”
When asked about breaking drug stigma, Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said the provincial government seeks decriminalization of people who use drugs. In addition, it has teamed with a number of organizations to help educate people.
“We’ve had some really strong partners, sports organizations,” said Malcolmson. “The Vancouver Canucks, B.C. Lions, who have partnered … recognizing that 70 per cent of toxic drug overdose victims are men and also the construction industry associations and organized labour have been particularly good partners with our government around social media campaigns and anti-stigma campaigns.
“We’ve got a really well-received TV commercial spot running right now, pointing out the discrimination that families and people suffering from addictions receive, relative to people that are facing other medical challenges.”
Recovering substance users can relapse and according to Lamoureux, it is important that he stays focused and take “it one day at a time.” Among his work, engagement with BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, community outreach with the aboriginal friendship centre in Nanaimo and work with the Patient Voices Network’s oversight and advisory committee.
“The reality is that I am an addict … what I do when temptations come up now is I talk about them,” said Lamoureux. “And if I don’t talk about them, I know that they’ll it’ll result in a relapse. I attend meetings, I do stuff where I surround myself with supportive people who are in recovery. And I have to accept that there’s a certain path that I will need to walk for the rest of my life.”
Lamoureux says people in the throes of addiction need to have the courage to come forward.
“Only in that place of surrender, are we truly able to heal,” said Lamoureux. “There’s lots of folks who are experiencing it, who are in the shadows [where] the alternative is jails, institutions and death. We have to be able to rally together. It’s not a disease that we can battle alone, so my biggest piece of advice is reach out. There’s resources available and people who can help you along your path.”