With our new documentary Steel Town Down, VICE sought to shed a light on one of the many small communities across Canada right now that are struggling with a rise in overdoses linked to fentanyl.
While in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (aka “the Soo”) filming the documentary, we met 20-year-old Kylie Greco, who almost died last year from an opioid overdose. When she OD’d at a friend’s home, she said, someone she was using with dropped her unconscious body off next to a dumpster in an alleyway—presumably out of fear they’d get in trouble (although, you'd be legally protected when reporting ODs in Canada, with some exceptions). Emergency medical responders revived Greco with naloxone after she was found by the dumpster.
Following the incident, she went to a treatment program in Sudbury, Ontario. While there for about a month, Greco lost eleven friends to fentanyl. "Everybody's dying," she said when we filmed with her in the alleyway where she was left during an overdose.
She has been trying to stay sober since she finished treatment last spring. VICE caught up with Greco today in a phone interview.
VICE: What made you want to share your story?
Kylie Greco: I wanted to share my story to get across to everyone that drugs aren’t just in big cities. Just because big cities have drug overdoses, it doesn’t mean it’s not affecting small communities like Sault Ste. Marie… There’s no place in smaller communities for people like me, as an addict, to go to. There’s a detox facility in the Soo, but it’s not comfortable and is co-ed. You want to feel comfortable when you’re getting sober. You don’t want to feel out of place.
When you’re sick you do things you don’t want to do. But when you want to get better, it’s hard when there’s no one to reach out to.
What was it like to go away for treatment?
Going away to treatment, it wasn’t something that I wanted to do at first, at all. It came down to the point where I had OD’d—I had to realize that it’s something you put yourself through. Addiction is a choice, but it’s not at the same time... You truly have to want it in order to actually succeed.
I can’t say I succeeded that first time going to treatment, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run. You get to go places you never thought you’d be. You get to see things you never thought you’d see. Where I was a long time ago, I never thought I’d have a job now. I never thought I’d be going somewhere, going to school. But it takes those times falling. I still fall, but to get back up and do it again is the whole point—to keep trying, not keep yourself down, and believe in yourself.
I went to treatment in April and was there for 31 days. I went to Monarch [Recovery Services] in Sudbury. I wasn’t sure what I was walking into. It was my first time going to treatment. But going into a place like that, it was amazing: the people I got to talk to, the things I got to let out.
Did you feel like it was good for you to get out of your normal environment and go to a treatment facility hours from home?
It was good for me, but honestly it doesn’t matter where you go—drugs are everywhere. For me to think about it now, in a situation of being an addict, I just want everybody to get help. I want a [treatment] facility in Sault Ste. Marie. It would probably help a lot of people.
Once you came back to Sault Ste. Marie, how did you stay on the path you wanted to?
Even if you go to treatment, it doesn’t mean when you come back it’s going to be OK. You just have to learn to teach yourself how to say no. That’s hard. It’s hard to push away people who were your friends who you were using with because you don’t want to have to push them away due to what they’re using, because you know what it’s like.
Now I just try and stay busy. If I keep my mind busy, it keeps me centered and it doesn’t make me go and run to something that’s going to fix my problems. Writing has been really good for me lately, music, meditation, just breathing and centering myself, trying to find nature. That’s helped me.
When you do “fall down," how do you get back up?
I have to deal with the humility. I have to walk in shame, but raise my head because I know I can get through this if I really want to.
Some people in Sault Ste. Marie are upset that their city was the subject of a documentary about the overdose crisis because that isn’t the reality of the Soo for them. But for you, as a person who has struggled with addiction in Sault Ste. Marie, how does that make you feel?
It actually makes me feel pretty crappy because people don’t realize that if we had more help in Sault Ste. Marie that maybe this wouldn’t be such a problem. As a younger person, for me seeing that there’s people of all ages who have to go through this, is sad. It just makes our community look horrible. Maybe if everybody worked together and stopped judging, everything would be perfectly fine.
I’ve noticed some people are coming out of the shadows now in Sault Ste. Marie and are telling their stories of how the overdose crisis has affected them, such as on social media, following the film.
Yeah, it takes one addict to be able to help another, to be able to help another. There’s not just people who are struggling—there’s people who have done it and stayed sober for many years. It didn’t just take them a day, it didn’t just take them a month; it took them years to accomplish.
If you could say something to people who are still judging and don’t think this is really a reality in their community, what would you say to them from your own experiences?
I would say take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s not to be rude or anything. This community is small. Everybody knows everybody... As an addict, I find that no one should be judging other people except for themselves.
I just feel like if this can help people everywhere, including the Soo and other addicts, it would be awesome. I’m not the perfect person, I’m still struggling—but to be able to talk to people and get myself out there and not isolate myself, it’s something better… I just want to get across to everybody that we all struggle in life; to get back up, breathe, and be able to find people who want to help you can actually get you somewhere. My parents have helped me, detox helped me—but it’s to be able to accept that help.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To learn about how to prevent, identify, and respond to an opioid overdose, click here. There is a law in Canada that offers some protections for people who report and/or seek medical help for overdoses— read about it here.