Interview with Gord Garner, CAPSA

“If one can change the way people who use substances are described, you can change how people think about them”

CAPSA and Dianova representatives

CAPSA Executive Director, Gord Garner, with one of his colleagues (left) and Lucía Goberna (middle) and Montse Rafel (right), respectively Head of the International Relations Dept., and Director General of Dianova International – photo: CND meeting, 2019

We are glad to welcome a new member to Dianova International.  The Community Addictions Peer Support Association (CAPSA) was established in Ottawa (Canada) in July 2013 in an effort to bring people with lived and living experience with substance use out of the shadows and into the community in an effort to shed light on issues of substance use.

CAPSA is headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and its Executive Director is Gord Garner.  We had an opportunity to speak with Gord and learn more about our latest member.

Gord, what is the main focus of the work of CAPSA?

Gord Garner: CAPSA seeks to reduce stigma with respect to and end discrimination towards people with a substance use disorder (SUD).

Your name suggests that you provide one-on-one peer support.  Can you explain further how peers are involved in your work?

CAPSA logoI’m glad you asked that question, because it leads us back to the issue of stigma.  Very few of our peers are visible because of the stigma and discrimination they face.  There is not an atmosphere where they can feel safe in discussing their issues with substances.  It is CAPSA’s belief that peer support must include those hidden peers suffering in silence.  By focussing on work that allows those peers to access help, by removing stigma and discrimination, we can reduce the barriers to support they seek.  I need to add that our work also supports peers who have regained health from a SUD, yet still suffer the same discrimination for their past health issues.

So, what does your work look like in action?

CAPSA has worked with Canadian national health organizations and Public Safety Canada to create training materials and knowledge products addressing stigma with respect to SUD.  In particular, we focus on person first language as an outcome.  We know that language is powerful and if one can change the way people who use substances are described, you can change how people think about them.

Who else have you had the opportunity to work with?

We have done a great deal of work with law enforcement in Canada.

Law enforcement? Are they not one of the sources of the problem?

Sadly, what you say is both correct and incorrect.  It has been shown that enforcement policies often increase the harms to people who use substances.  However, we see police and other first responders as one of the most stigmatized populations when it comes to SUD.  Imagine the suffering of a group of educated people, who are unionized and have services available through their health insurance, but can’t access these services because of stigma and discrimination.

How do you see CAPSA involved with the work of Dianova?

First of all, let me express how grateful and excited we are to be part of the Dianova Network.  In addition to providing Dianova an entry into North America, we think that CAPSA will serve to be an excellent partner in the dissemination of knowledge around substance use disorder, particularly amongst English speaking countries.  While we are led by people with lived experience, we have claimed our position as educators of stigma and the impacts it has on our population.  We are sincerely looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship in the years to come!

Many thanks for your time!