Dear Pen Pals...

Do you have a question about drug use, addiction, mental health, relationships, sexuality, or other life issues? We've got you covered.

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Are there things you’ve always wondered about but have felt too uncomfortable to ask someone? Is there an issue you just don’t understand but would like to learn more about?

Megaphone has the answers you need.

Welcome to Pen Pals, a new feature that runs each month in our magazine.

Building on the open dialogue around drug use and addiction fostered by Megaphone’s new Speakers Bureau program, we’re launching a monthly “advice column” that aims to encourage respectful discussion about real life issues. We also want to increase interaction between the Megaphone team and our readers and customers.

So fire away! We have the awesome folks who are involved with Speakers Bureau, as well as some of our seasoned vendors, standing by to dole out their two cents’ worth.  (Take their advice at your own risk).

Oh, and a warning: Agree or disagree, rant or rave, but please be concise and respectful. No profanity. And while we are supportive of an honest exchange of ideas, racist, sexist, homophobic or other denigrating comments will not be printed.


Dear Pen Pals,

Q: What is the distinction between a drug “addict” and a drug “user” and why is the language important?

I am a member on many boards in the Downtown Eastside and I have lived and played down here for more than 25 years. I would like to thank the Creator for allowing me the opportunity to answer this question.

Part of the problem with the term drug “addict” is that people see us all as “just junkies.” Why can't we say “someone with lived experience?”

My belief is when you are addicted to something, that means there is a problem. For me, the main problem is that most drugs are illegal, even though doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals that in fact have the same effects as the street drugs I partake in.

I’m not saying there are no people out there who are addicted to substances. There are. And in one form or another, we are all addicted to something, including legal substances such as coffee or alcohol. If those were illegal, how many people would be criminals?

I use drugs, yes, but I am still a functioning person in my community. I sit on many governing boards, including at VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users); CAPUD (Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs); B.C./Yukon ADWS (B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors); and SWAV (Sex Workers Against Violence). I am also a peer support worker.

I was one of a handful of people who co-wrote Research 101: A Manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside, a project convened by Hives for Humanity and supported by Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. I am alsoa co-author of articles on substance use in qualitative medical journals.

In summary, using substances does not necessarily make you addicted; it means you use drugs. Most importantly, "addict" is a label that only adds to stigma.

I sure hope this answers your question.

One more thing: Remember, if you are going to use, please be safe and use at an overdose prevention site or call a friend. Don't think you are above the overdose epidemic. “Fentanylities” are real; there are currently about 10 people a day dying across the country.

This is preventable. Don't let the opinions of other people make you hide away to get high. We all matter. I am tired of all of my friends dying.


Samona Marsh (pictured above)

Team member, Megaphone Speakers Bureau

Send your questions to editor@, drop them off at the Megaphone office at 312 Main St. (at Cordova), or drop us a line on Twitter: @MegaphoneMag

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