Alyssa Stryker brings passion and experience to her new job as the co-ordinator for the Brantford-Brant drug strategy.
But Stryker said she believes the ability to listen and learn are the best qualities she and others can bring to the task of helping those who use drugs.
“I don’t think we do enough listening to people,” Stryker said in an interview. “We tend to think we know what’s best and what works but the interventions that work best are those that are responsive to the needs of those using drugs.
“They can lead us to the solutions that will be most effective.”
Working out of the Brant County Health Unit since April, Stryker brings more than 10 years of direct service, research and drug policy experience to the position. She has learned a great deal about drug use and harm reduction.
“ My first job coming out of school was with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association,” Stryker said. “The association has a broad mandate and I was in a junior position so I became a kind of jack of all trades, master of none.”
But it was the association’s work in drug policy and harm reduction that most piqued her interest, largely because what she learned ran contrary to what she had understood to be true.
“As a kid, I remember being told drugs are bad, don’t do them,” Stryker said. “But, through my work, I learned there is much more to the issue.
“It’s much more nuanced and there are so many different reasons as to why people use drugs.”
Prior to coming to Brantford-Brant, Stryker was a senior associate with the Substance use Prevention and Treatment Initiative, Pew Charitable Trusts, based in Philadelphia, Pa.. She advised state and local governments on expanding access to opioid agonist therapy, in which patients are prescribed therapeutic drugs, such as methadone, to help with withdrawal.
The Brantford-Brant drug strategy is a community-wide initiative that includes representatives from numerous organizations including the health unit, St. Leonard’s Community Services and the Brant Community Healthcare System. It was launched following 27 opioid-overdose deaths recorded in the community in 2017.
Stryker said the strategy’s list of priorities include expansion of PreVenture, a prevention focused program for adolescents being provided by Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services. She said she also wants to enhance community services, including expanding distribution of naloxone which can reverse the effect of an opioid overdose, safer supply and consumption issues.
A drug treatment court and the expansion of alternatives to incarceration for those who use drugs are also on her priority list, she said.
“I think it’s clear that drug use is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue,” Stryker said. “I think putting people in jail for a small amount of drugs doesn’t get at the real issues.
“Just looking at the scale of the drug crisis, it’s clear there’s a lot of work to be done and it’s appropriate to be thinking about new ways to address the issue.”
Safe consumption sites, meanwhile, have been shown to save lives, she said.
“Speaking for myself, the data supporting safe consumption sites is overwhelming,” Stryker said. “People overdose at safe consumption sites regularly but no one has ever died at a safe consumption site anywhere in the world.
“I think that’s an profoundly important statistic.”
Stryker said educating the public about substance abuse also is key.
“I think it’s important that we, as a community, keep the conversation going,” she said.
“We need to learn as much as we can about what’s happening here and come up with solutions that will best serve the community.”