Public figure makes personal confession to break down negative stigma of drug addiction

Drug-forum attendee Helena Paivinen in the hopes of breaking down the stigma of drug addiction confessed her own battles with substance to the public on Sept. 12.

KAMLOOPS – While the Kamloops Rotary planned the forum, sent out invitations and set tables for guests to learn about drugs and addiction in the community over coffee — no amount of planning could have prepared them for the emotional confession of one brave attendee Friday afternoon.

During a question period Helena Paivinen, a nurse, professor and director of the Kamloops Kiwanis Club and author of a project intended to reduce stigmatization of drug addicts calmly raised her right hand. When called upon, Paivinen's wrist, clad in several bangles dropped. She appeared uneasy as she shared her comment — she had a secret to share. 

In her first public disclosure, Paivinen told the crowd of RCMP members, government representatives, and members of community groups that she is an alcoholic and had abused prescription medications in the past.  

“Silence is what kills,” she started.

Paivinen began to shake. Tears welled up in her eyes and she paused. Coun. Marg Spina reached out, put her hand on her leg and told her how brave she was.

“I’m shaking,” Paivinen said before continuing. She told the audience about her history as a nurse and her work in the community - adding that due to a medical condition she had to take a leave from work.

She paused between a few sentences and after taking a deep breath let out a small, but powerful anecdote. There was a time when she took too many prescription pills – from her nursing experience she knew it was an overdose. Paivinen said she sat in her bathroom thinking she was was going to die and knew she had to seek medical attention.

But she didn’t want to go to the hospital because the fear of her secret’s release paralyzed her.

“I thought death was a better choice than the stigma and shame of coming forward,” she said.

Yet Paivinen survived her overdose. She found help. On Friday morning in an overwhelming emotional moment she told others how keeping quiet about addiction could literally kill you.

Paivinen’s confession followed a candid and blunt talk from Marshall Smith – a former staffer for Premier Gordon Campbell and recovering meth addict. Smith's addiction pulled him from his political career and landed him sleeping on the streets of Vancouver where he dealt drugs.

Now nine years clean, Smith encouraged everyone to work towards breaking down the negative stigma of drug addiction. He said almost everyone is impacted by it either directly as an addict or through a relationship with an addict.

Smith told the crowd a community drug problem cannot be resolved by “policing our way out of it”. Instead he said the answer is in providing a space for addicts to open up and ask for help.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation and creativity,” Smith said. “I am the evidence that happens.”

Smith added a way to do that is by breaking the cycle of co-dependency with an addict.

“(Tell them I) will do anything to help in your recovery, nothing to help your addiction,” Smith said, adding Paivinen's statement brought a powerful tone to the room.

“Let’s be fearless,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email, or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.


MANN: November is a great month, really it is
  OPINION November can be an underrated month. Generally, when I ask someone what their favourite month is, November is rarely the answer — unless they have a birthday in November. Why? The seaso

Top News