Aug. 20, 2019

Everyone is worthy of care

Aug. 28 event dives into the realities of opioid use and addiction

The conversation about opioid use and addiction has changed in recent years, moving from a focus on crime and punishment toward a position of harm reduction and compassion. This change has been driven largely by grassroots community organizations. Jessica Holtsbaum co-founded one such organization.

Holtsbaum works full-time at a law firm, raises her children, runs her non-profit and, come September, will be completing her communications and media studies degree after a 14-year hiatus.

Holtsbaum had begun her undergraduate degree in communications and media studies in 2005. “Life threw some things my way, and now that I’m a little more settled and my children are older, it’s the perfect time to finish my degree,” said Holtsbaum. 

Holtsbaum chose communication and media studies because she wants to make complex subjects more accessible by breaking them down into simple messages.

“In this day and age, the conduits by which messages are shared are so vast. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time, and I’m excited to see how I can make my mark.” she said.

Holtsbaum hopes to further develop her storytelling skills during her undergraduate studies, skills she will put to use at the organization she co-founded that uses social media and community events to share the personal stories of people who have been impacted by addiction — whether first-hand, or through a family member or friend.

Jessica Holtsbaum

Jessica Holtsbaum is the co-founder of Change the Face of Addiction and an incoming undergrad.

Courtesy Jessica Holtsbaum

Changing the face of addictions 

Holtsbaum, with her co-founder Rosalind Davis, started Change the Face of Addiction, a local grassroot organization to fight against the stigma of addiction, and advocate for effective treatment models for people living with addictions.

Supporting people living with addiction and their families is a cause that’s close to home for Holtsbaum, having lost her brother Nathan, Rosalind’s partner, to an opioid overdose.

“My older brother died from a fatal dose of fentanyl in 2016,” Holtsbaum said. “We knew very little about addictions and opioids and started to do research on our own to try to find out why he went down the path he did, and what we could do to prevent this from happening to other families.”

Everyone is worthy of care – Aug. 28 panel event

On Wednesday, Aug. 28 at 4:30 p.m., the public is invited to Worthy, an opioid awareness panel that will feature videos and personal stories from Change the Face of Addiction members:

  • Jenn McCrindle, an experienced harm reduction outreach worker committed to breaking stigma about substance use
  • Karen Bell, whose son Scott died after an overdose under a year ago.

Sharing personal stories has helped Change the Face of Addictions build a community of like-minded people, and reassure people they are not alone.

“There is something powerful about sharing a headshot along with a personal story,” Holtsbaum said. “It helps to humanize addiction, and break down the stigma that is one of the many barriers drug users face.

“I hope that people realize that addiction is not a moral failing, but rather a byproduct of disconnection,” she said.

Public health specialist Dr. Nicholas Etches and community health sciences assistant professor Rebecca Haines-Saah from the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education will also be on the panel.

Worthy was organized by the Student Wellness Services’ Opioid Awareness Stakeholder Committee, supported by Alberta Health’s Opioid Harm Reduction Grant in partnership with the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education and Change the Face of Addiction. Join the conversation – register for Worthy now.