Pubdate: Sat, 13 May 2006
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 The London Free Press
Author: John Miner, Free Press Health Reporter			


Ontario's Health Minister Hopes His Story Will Help Others Battling Drug Use

Applauded for his personal courage by political colleagues yesterday, 
Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman said he hopes the 
revelation he was addicted to street drugs during the 1990s will help 
others struggling with substance abuse.

"There is something better on the other side," he said on a visit to 
London. "I hope there are some people out there who can read that 
story and it can help put their situation in a better perspective and 
give them a little bit more power to charge through it."

The London visit was his first public appearance since he revealed he 
was addicted to illegal drugs for five years and used them regularly 
in Toronto's party scene.

He decided to first talk publicly about his drug use at this week's 
Centre for Addition and Mental Health Courage to Come Back Awards, 
where others described their own struggles.

"It feels right in my bones, I feel good by the decision. It's hard, 
obviously. Some people prefer to keep their skeletons in their 
closet," said Smitherman, who is Ontario's first openly gay cabinet minister.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday he's proud of Smitherman for 
coming clean about using illegal drugs in his past.

"I hope that he will serve as an inspiration to others in Ontario and 
wherever else who find themselves in the grip of a drug addiction and 
understand that with perseverance and professional help, this is 
something that you can overcome and that you can enjoy tremendous 
success after that," McGuinty said in Guelph.

The premier said he hadn't known about Smitherman's problems with drugs.

He also said he wouldn't consider screening cabinet ministers for 
prior drug use.

McGuinty has acknowledged he experimented with pot in his own youth, 
but now regrets it.

Smitherman conceded some people might use the information about his 
drug addiction to attack him politically.

"Politics is politics. You can anticipate some people will be playing 
games like that. I am not concerned about it," he said.

Smitherman has declined to say what drugs he used, but said it was 
before he was elected to office.

He said he has been free of drugs for 10 years.

Two Liberal colleagues at the London event yesterday, where 
Smitherman was addressing a conference, said his admissions about 
drug use increased their admiration for him.

"I want to commend George on his bravery. It is a very difficult 
thing to do," said Perth-Middlesex MPP John Wilkinson. "I am just so 
proud of him."

Wilkinson said Smitherman is now a role model for others who struggle 
with similar problems.

"He is just a great example that if you can overcome it and get that 
off your back, there is a life beyond that."

London-North-Centre MPP Deb Matthews said Smitherman's decision to go 
public shows he's a straightforward person who doesn't shy away from 
being who he is.

"I have nothing but admiration and respect for him."

Matthews said she doesn't expect Smitherman's association with drugs 
to damage the party.

"Politicians are human beings. . . . George is doing an outstanding 
job and I think he has to be judged on the work that he does now," she said.

"He is living proof that you can go from someone who is addicted to 
probably the most productive person in the province."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman