WINDSOR -- A new workshop series in Windsor continues its mission to tackle the stigma associated with opioid use and help citizens prepare to respond in a crisis.

The AIDS Committee of Windsor has hosted two of its “Label Me Person” workshops with a third planned in January as part of its response to the growing opioid crisis across Canada. The sessions are meant to dispel misinformation concerning opioid use and better equip people to respond to an opioid-related emergency.

“I think it’s important to have a place where we can talk about it, where we can discuss and share some of our information because we know that there’s misinformation out there all the time,” said Reem Adas, project coordinator.

The most recent workshop in Ford City attracted community leaders and concerned citizens, including Amber Joy-Kouvalis and her son.

All of the workshops are being hosted at Drouillard Place. The first focused on harm reduction while the most recent session focused on opioids and naloxone.

Joy-Kouvalis feels learning to use naloxone is a crucial part of understanding the dangers presented by the opioid crisis.

More importantly, the mother wants to be ready to act if needed.

“I’m hoping to have one [naloxone] in the car, one at home and maybe even one in my backpack,” said Joy-Kouvalis. “If I could help somebody live, why wouldn’t I?”

In Windsor-Essex alone, there were 220 opioid-related emergency department visits in 2018, nearly three times as many as a decade earlier.

Michael Kumako, the Harm Reduction and Community Coordinator for the ACW, led a small group at its most recent session through the process to administer naloxone – a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose and potentially save a life.

“Hopefully, after naloxone has been successfully administered and the person wakes up, you will tell them that, ‘this is what has happened and the ambulance is on its way,’” explained Kumako to those in attendance.

Adas says the opioid crisis touches people across socio-economic boundaries and hopes the “Label Me Person” workshops can help shift perceptions of those struggling with addiction.

“Some people might by using ‘addict’ or ‘junkie’ or ‘user’ and so, we’re moving towards more ‘a person who uses substances’ or ‘a person with an addiction’ so again, highlighting that it’s a person first,” said Adas.

According to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, monthly overdose ED visits in 2018 and 2019 have topped the 5-year average in all but two months.

“There are so many of our friends, family members, neighbours, people just at the store who are using and it’s important for us to realize – they’re just one of us,” said Joy-Kouvalis.

The next session will focus on consumption and treatment and is planned for January 15 at Drouillard Place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The workshops are free to attend.

— with files from Alana Hadadean