"We found you on the sidewalk," the paramedics told Jen as she came to. "You overdosed."
Just moments before, she was in her car parked on the side of the road in downtown Kamloops, trading drugs with a stranger. She woke up confused in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
This wasn't what she bargained for. She inhaled what she thought was heroin from a hollow pen hovering over tin foil heated with a lighter.
"I took one puff and was done," she says. "God knows what he gave me. With my history I have a bit of tolerance when it comes to opiates.... What if that guy split? I would have been dead in my car. That's crazy."
That night, Jen had a small amount of marijuana, which was odd since she doesn’t smoke weed. She was storming away from a fight with her mother when she ran into a man sitting alone on a bench. He was surrounded by bags and belongings, probably homeless. She was drunk, mad and after something harder than weed. He offered to trade her some “down” for her pot.
He provided the drugs she overdosed on, yet he’s also the reason she's still alive today. She was unconscious and has no memory of what happened, but says he pulled her out onto the sidewalk and called for help when she started overdosing. Jen says a passerby called 911 when the man was calling for help.
She still can’t believe one single hit put her so close to death.
'MY MOM WAS DEVASTATED'
"It wasn't much," she says. "I remember thinking 'did I even get anything?'''
After a hit triggers a fatal overdose, no one gets to ask why that person tossed the dice and took drugs. In most cases, that's where the story ends. For as many as four people per day in B.C., that's how they will end their addictions this year.
Jen is still here. She's one of the lucky ones and this is her story. She's a young woman in her late 20's living in Kamloops and she agreed to share her story, but anonymously.
For her, drug use follows closely behind alcohol use.
"It would be nice if I could have a couple and just call it a night, but that's not the case," she says.
Jen remains comfortable, honest and unflinching as I prod her with questions about her past drug use. She is charming and approachable. Everything about her is laid back. She sits back, relaxed in her chair, leaning forward only once or twice as we talk. She is wearing sneakers, jeans, a black t-shirt and a toque.
After her brush with death, she stopped drinking for several weeks.
"It was a wake up call and I thought something needed to change," she says.
Her partner cried when she told him about the overdose and it broke her mother's heart.
"My mom was devastated," Jen says slowly. "She screamed and cried and hugged me."
But the change didn't take, not really. About a month later, Jen was caught drinking and driving. She was snatched up in a road block and charged with a DUI, another harsh consequence that always seems for her to start with a sip of alcohol.
Soon after the DUI, she took crack cocaine with a stranger after drinking at a bar. Despite her intentions to stay clean and no matter how hard she tries, she keeps tripping up and using drugs.
"I wasn't even mad about anything that night, I was just way too drunk and didn't care," she says.
'ALL THE VODKA SHE COULD DRINK'
She gives no indication she's out of control. She has kept the same full time job for years. She’s outgoing and has plenty of friends.
Between digging into her harsh past and opening up old wounds, she picks at an appetizer and sips a double vodka cocktail. She interrupts a childhood story of tagging along with her mom to visit another lonely gentleman and pauses to casually crack a joke with restaurant staff.
But then this is nothing new for her. She was just a kid when she went along on one her mom’s regular dates. She was offered “all the vodka she could drink” while she was there and so she did.
She was 11 years old. That's when she began this relationship with alcohol and drugs. She would bargain with herself to maintain accountability. Three personal rules: no hard drugs, graduate high school and get a drivers licence. She wanted to do everything her mom wasn’t able to.
She stuck to all her rules but one. She was making plenty of money and did what came naturally.
"I was partying like a maniac, but I always paid my credit card, I always did my taxes, I went to work," she says. "Those small things made me feel like a human."
That’s when she found her way to oxycontin. She didn’t have a prescription; an older co-worker offered her some and eventually started selling them to her. Street value for oxycontin is very high and Jen was scoring them for a few dollars per pill.
"It's fucking expensive, I mean crazy expensive to get the thrill you want from opiates," she says.
Opiates were her drug of choice because they made her feel "warm and fuzzy" and no one could tell she was high. But it didn't last. It led her to a failed suicide attempt, years of hard partying, methadone treatment, and toxic relationships.
Jen believes she is getting better. She doesn't use drugs regularly anymore. She's in a long-term relationship. She admits she’s an alcoholic, goes to addictions meetings and believes she is recovering. She says she feels accountable to her councillor and it's the first time she's ever gone to meetings.
Her battle with drugs depends on her battle with alcohol. All of Jen's close calls with drugs happen when she's drunk and she can't explain why, but she's young: Her friends like to socialize at bars and that means she also hangs out at bars. One drink turns into two, shooters follow, then who knows. A few drinks are the difference between Jen calling it a night or doing drugs with strangers.
"I'm lucky I got off the way I did this time, but that's exactly what I said last time," she says, shaking her head and she recalls the DUI.
"I don't want to quit drinking," she says. "I just want to get better."
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