Pubdate: Wed, 22 Mar 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Liz Monteiro
Page: B1


Street expert says 'acceptance is huge' - to show others that someone

KITCHENER - When Larissa Ziesmann was homeless, she often slept in
shelters, stole from stores and sold goods on the street to feed her
heroin addiction.

Home was the seedy Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

Ziesmann, now a recovering addict, recalls when the deadly drug
fentanyl hit the streets of Vancouver.

"People that I knew they were dying. One day they were there and then
dropping off, a few a day," said Ziesmann, who tried fentanyl once.

"No one knew what was going on," she said. "People started to get

Last year in British Columbia there were 914 drug overdoses; 42 people
died in December alone. In Waterloo Region, paramedics are responding
to almost two overdoses a day.

Ziesmann said she carried a naloxone kit and injected the life-saving
drug into the arms and legs of friends overdosing.

Ziesmann, who has been battling opiates for 15 years - four of them on
the streets of Vancouver - was tired of feeling sick each morning when
she needed her fix.

"I used for a long time. There were a few close calls," she

"It was a total grind. There was nothing positive about it anymore,"
Ziesmann said. "I also had the advantage of knowing that I had a good
life before.

"I had memories of a family who wanted me to do better," she

The Calgary-born, Toronto-raised, Ziesmann left home when she was 15
and lived with her sister. She started working as a bike courier.

She got hit by cars a few times and with four ruptured vertebrae she
was put on potent painkillers.

She started with two oxycodone a day and soon was taking more - up to
15 pills a day. Then she tried heroin.

"The first time I realized I'm going to be in trouble," she said.
"Everything felt perfect. Cleaning the house felt good. Chores felt

For seven years Ziesmann was able to work and use daily. She also
finished high school and received a social work degree from the
University of Toronto. But as time progressed, it was harder to get up
each morning.

"I woke up sick everyday with severe flulike symptoms and throwing up.
You go through withdrawal everyday," said Zeismann, who accrued
substantial debt, spending about $60 a day for her fix.

"I wish and prayed that I could wake up like everyone else," said
Ziesmann, who then went to a methadone clinic.

She stopped doing drugs and was clean for three years. She started
working as a peer support worker at a clinic in Toronto.

She was offered work doing outreach with the homeless in Vancouver and
moved out West. But the job was shelved because of budget constraints
and she was left without work.

It wasn't long before she was tempted by the allure of her former

"You walk down the street and in four blocks you flat out get asked 20
times" if you wanted crack, cocaine or heroin, she said.

Ziesmann credits her partner who stood by her side even as she used.
She followed her and made sure she was safe.

"She saw something in me. She knew I wanted to change. She had faith
in me," she said. Ziesmann started on methadone and appeared for her
court dates, dealing with 11 outstanding warrants.

"I made it through one year probation," she said.

The pair now live in Kitchener and Ziesmann, 40, works as a peer
health worker with the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre.

Ziesmann, who continues with her daily methadone, said she's an
example of harm reduction at work and believes that's how to help
addicts recover.

She said the region needs rapid access clinics to provide detox, safe
injection sites and housing with supports so that people have a place
to live.

"The time of abstinence and finger-wagging needs to stop," she

As a peer health worker, Ziesmann assists those with addictions and
mental health struggles, helping them with appointments and court
dates. But drug users need to take responsibility too, she said.

Carry the opioid antidote naloxone, test the stuff you buy and never
use alone, Ziesmann advises.

Ziesmann has had experiences that she can share with those she helps.
She adds that she expects to have sad moments

"Acceptance is huge," she said.

That's what Ziesmann strives to do - to show others that someone

"At least I can be that person and have a normal conversation with
them," she said. "I connect with people.

"As soon as people are honest, they will be honest in other things in
their lives. I lied for so long.

"You pretend you are OK and you actually believe you are OK, but
you're not."
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MAP posted-by: Matt