When it was confirmed that Canadian actor Cory Monteith died suddenly last week due to a mix of heroin and alcohol in his system, many across the country were unable to understand how a bright young man with a bright future could throw his life away to drugs.
In life, Monteith had been open about his battle with drug use. The 31-year-old had fought heroin addiction growing up in British Columbia. It was a battle that began long before he shot to fame as a jock-turned-singer in the show Glee and lasted until earlier this year, when he reportedly entered rehab.
Unless you have experienced it first-hand, the battle against drug abuse is a hard one to understand. In an interview with Yahoo! Canada News, Guy-Pierre Lévesque described heroin use as a “bubble” a person couldn’t escape. The Montreal-based activist is a former heroin user who fought addiction for 20 years before finally getting clean. In 2000, he founded Méta d’Âme – a community facility dedicated to helping those living with, and recovering from, drug dependencies.
Guy-Pierre Lévesque spoke with Yahoo! Canada News about his experience with drugs.
Yahoo! Canada: How old were you when you first tried heroin?
Lévesque: I was around 19 years old.
Yahoo! Canada: How did you start?
Lévesque: It was with friends. You try it out and you like it and you use it more often. Then suddenly you wake up one morning and you are hooked on the product. It is really something that comes very slowly and from behind. You have it, you take it, it is good and you do it again. If you have difficulties with your personal life then you feel very satisfied – it gives you a feeling of satisfaction, you are in a bubble.
Yahoo! Canada: It felt like the drug was helping you escape personal problems?
Lévesque: For me I had a hard time when I was young and it helped me cope with my difficulties. Like self-medication. For some people it has a different trajectory; that is not always how it happens. Most of the time people use it because it is offered to them and, especially when you are young, you don’t believe the drug can control your life.
Yahoo! Canada: When did you realize heroin was controlling your life?
Lévesque: I was 20 years using the drug on and off. I would withdraw and then I would start again for a while, and do another withdrawal. It never ends, until the day you don’t have enough income to cope with your use.
Yahoo! Canada: So, no easy task. When did you finally turn the corner?
Lévesque: I turned the corner when I came to get medication for my dependency. Methadone. I don’t believe I would have been able to diminish my use without methadone.
Yahoo! Canada: Before we talk about treatment, I wanted to ask you about the feeling of addiction. Cory Monteith was very open about his struggle getting off of drugs. People don’t seem to understand the hold drugs can have. How hard is it to fight the addiction?
Lévesque: It is an obsession. It becomes an obsession. I feel that most people have a hard time with drug use because it is taboo, because of prohibition. They keep it hidden; they keep their addiction, their use, hidden from everyone. They are ashamed to talk about it if they come into problems with their use. It is something that you try to do, coping with your regular life and trying not to let people know you are using. There is stigma around the use. If it was not prohibited, people would feel free to seek help when they need it.
Yahoo! Canada: Is that the theory behind Méta d’Âme? A community for addicts and recovering addicts who don’t have to hide?
Lévesque: It is peer-to-peer help. Everyone who is here is someone who has opiate use in their life. They overcame the difficulty they had with the abuse. The idea is to help people who have the most difficulty with opiate use.
Yahoo! Canada: The acceptance or understanding that the community can provide allows people to make health decision?
Lévesque: Yes, many people here have been through a diversity of therapy and never been able to succeed in them. This is an alternative. We have a policy of harm reduction, so we do not judge or condemn people who are using. Instead we try to accompany them so they have a better life and can recalibrate their use with medication. If we preach abstinence, most of them will not even try.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.