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‘When people come here they feel safe’: Finding sanctuary at the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site

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“I’ve lost 11 friends this year … most people don’t lose that many in a lifetime.”

Dave Gordon reflects on the toll drugs have taken on the people in his life as he sits at the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site sketching in his notebook. He’s been on and off opioids himself for decades.

“I don’t want to lose any more friends.”

More than 9,000 people have died from accidental overdoses in Canada since January 2016 — 2,000 of them in the first half of 2018 alone, according to numbers released by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

While Canada struggles with a relentless and deadly opioid crisis, places like the Moss Park site in Toronto offer help. They allow people to bring their drugs inside and safely use them under the supervision of trained staff.

CBC News was granted rare access to spend some time at the government-sanctioned Overdose Prevention Site and meet people who work there, as well as those who use it.

Gordon knows what’s driving the grim statistics around opioids only too well. He has overdosed, and described it as, “the most horrible feeling in the world. Feeling like my life was slipping away. I had no control.”

Dave Gordon sketches at a table in the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

He now spends his time at the Moss Park site — partly to use safely, but also because it’s a place to be with friends and it has allowed him to re-discover his love of drawing.

Gordon is also giving back, handing out harm-reduction safety kits in the neighbourhood to help others in the community.

I’m trying to pay society back for my mistakes.– Dave Gordon

“I’m trying to pay society back for my mistakes.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada says 72 per cent of accidental overdose deaths this year involved fentanyl. And a lot of them happen when people use drugs alone.

“So when people come here they feel safe. They feel supported,” says Sarah Greig, an overdose response worker at Moss Park. “They don’t feel shamed and blamed and stigmatized, as they have been by their family, by some health care providers and by some social service providers.”

Greig says the people who come to Moss Park are more like friends, and they are building a community.

The overdose prevention site began as an unsanctioned, volunteer-run outdoor tent in Toronto’s Moss Park. It had over 9,000 visits and reversed more than 200 overdoses between August 2017 and June 2018.

Medical supplies at Moss Park. The site has been seeing more than 100 visitors a day and reversed more than 50 overdoses since it received provincial funding in July.

After becoming a satellite of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, the site received provincial funding and an exemption through the provincial OPS program, allowing it to move indoors in July this year.

Since then, it has had thousands more visits — over a hundred a day — and reversed more than 50 overdoses.

The future of these sites remains uncertain, however, as local and provincial governments grapple with their pros and cons and who will fund them.

Moss Park’s government funding is set to expire on Dec. 24. The organizers have re-applied, but the province is imposing stricter regulations on where overdose sites can operate, which could jeopardize the Moss Park operation.

The fact that the site might be shut down worries Akosua Gyan-Mante.

“We need more places like this,” says the 26-year-old, a regular at Moss Park. “I don’t want to die alone in an alley.”

The Moss Park site ‘is giving me a fighting chance,’ says heroin and fentanyl user Akosua Gyan-Mante. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Gyan-Mante never thought she would be a drug user — growing up in B.C. in a home with a loving father, she had dreams of being a doctor. She moved to Toronto six years ago, started college and had a son.

Then things fell apart. She began injecting heroin and fentanyl this summer after her boyfriend introduced her to it.

“I’m lonely and depressed, and it makes me feel better,” Gyan-Mante says, explaining that drugs help numb the emotional pain.

She overdosed at the site this past October. Greig was there to reverse it.

We need to nurture people and we need to point out people’s strengths instead of just identifying their weaknesses.– Sarah Greig

“We need to nurture people and we need to point out people’s strengths instead of just identifying their weaknesses,” Greig says, adding that people use drugs for a wide range of things.

“This is my support system right here … [the hope that this] shitty existence will get better,” says Gyan-Mante as she hugs Greig, wiping a tear from her eye.

“It [the site] is giving me a fighting chance. It gave me life. It’s giving me another day, another week, another month of being OK.”

Gyan-Mante, centre, overdosed at the Moss Park site this summer. Front-line response workers Sarah Greig, left, and Tony, right, reversed the overdose. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Far from just a place to use drugs, the site also offers a hot meal provided by donations, a warm place to hang out during winter, and information on support services if people want them.

The site operates from noon to 6 p.m. and is closed on Mondays.

“I hate Mondays,” Kevin Drake says as Greig watches him use heroin. “I’ve been to different sites. And this is the best.”

Drake says he has overdosed 15 times in his life. But when he is at Moss Park, he does not feel shame.

Instead, it’s replaced by pride. He is known as a guy who is always cleaning up, mopping floors and organizing the space, making sure it looks its best.

Sarah Greig watches Kevin Drake as he prepares a dose of heroin, to make sure he doesn’t overdose – and so she can take immediate action if he does. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“I do worry, but I use Fentanyl … that’s why I come here. That’s why I choose not to do it by myself. Because here — you’re guaranteed to leave here alive.”

The site offers safety, and it also harbours stories of hope.

Drake got a job shortly after CBC’s visit. Gordon is being asked to speak at universities about his experiences, to help find solutions to community drug issues. Gyan-Mante is hoping to reunite with her son permanently.

And that hope is exactly the point of these sites, Greig says.

“When I reflect and I think about what I’ve been doing for the past decade, a lot of it is actually nurturing people and pointing out their worth. Convincing people that they are worthy of love and affection, and that they can do anything that they want to do.”


Watch the story on the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site from The National:

In the first half of 2018 at least 2,000 people died of overdoses across the country, a slight increase over last year. Amid all that death, Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site in Toronto is a place of life. The National got inside the site to see how it works, and what it means to the people who use it. 8:14


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Researchers warn about the severe psychological distress caused by eating junk food

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(Natural News) Does junk food make you sad? While the current state of the American food industry is more than enough to make anyone feel depressed, new research from Loma Linda University demonstrates a link between junk-laden diets and psychological distress. Based on their findings, it appears that what you eat can and does affect your mental health — and that the prepackaged garbage peddled as “food” can have a seriously deleterious effect on your emotional well-being.

Even after adjusting for other external factors, the scientists found this relationship held steady: The more junk food a person ate, the more distress they reported feeling. When you consider the physiological effects junk food has on the body, it is no wonder that people report feeling like they are more distressed: They are in distress, they just don’t know it’s because of what the “food” they’re eating is doing to them on the inside.

Estimates suggest that the average American gets 60 percent of their daily calories from processed or junk food. Junk food consumption is a widespread problem here in the United States. Now, there are questions about whether or not junk food is a driving force in the plague of insanity (and stupidity) striking the U.S.

Scientists link junk food to poor mental health

Published in the journal International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in early 2019, a study from Loma Linda University scientists finds a link between poor diet and poor mental health. Even after adjusting for external factors such as gender, age, education and income level, the association between junk food intake and mental illness remained.

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Study leader Jim E. Banta, Ph.D., MPH, an associate professor at the school, says that their conclusions support the findings of previous research. To conduct their study, Banta and his team looked at data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The scientists used 240,000 phone surveys conducted by CHIS between 2005 and 2015, and included data on socio-demographics, health status and health behaviors.

“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavorial medicine,” Banta said of the findings.

“Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health. More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction,” he added.

The fact that scientists in the 21st century are only now just beginning to even consider the possibility of a relationship between nutrition and mental health is truly disturbing. Natural health practitioners have long been aware of the importance of good nutrition for total well-being, including mental state.

Is poor nutrition turning America insane?

Vitamin D deficiency is a well-known cause of depression. B vitamins, iron, selenium and magnesium also support good mental health and deficiencies in these nutrients can also cause depression and anxiety. There is a growing body of research which strongly supports poor nutrition as a causative factor not only in depression, but in other mental illnesses — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD and more.

For example, Dr. Banta notes that some research has linked high sugar consumption to bipolar disorder, while fried foods and processed grains are linked to depression. There is no ignoring the link between diet and disease — whether it is of the body or of the mind makes no difference.

Nearly 60 percent of the American population’s diet comes from disease-causing food, and it is hard not to wonder if obesity, heart disease and death aren’t the only problems being caused by junk food diets.

Are the increasingly insane leftists just running around in a nutrient-deprived, sugar-spiked frenzy? Whether you’re talking about the inanity of “social justice” score-keeping or the rapid acceptance of censorship to silence conservatives, it’s clear that the far left is missing a few bolts upstairs. A diet of GMOs, pesticides and toxic food additives will do that to you, though.

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Eat healthier to improve your physical and mental well-being

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(Natural News) The physical health and mental well-being of a person depend a lot on nutrition and the food that he eats. Diet also influences the risk of developing chronic diseases. While the relationship between physical health and diet is well-understood, little is known about how diet and its quality influence the development of mental disorders. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Regensburg in Germany investigated the behavioral effects of a Western diet on pattern separation – the process of keeping items distinct in memory. They discovered that a diet consisting of increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids (Western diet) harms memory. The results of their study were published in the journal Food Science and Human Wellness.

The Western diet impairs pattern separation

In this study, researchers investigated the utility of spatial separation – a behavioral process associated with the hippocampus – in the assessment of dietary interventions and the behavioral effects of the transgenerational administration of a Western diet on pattern separation. Pattern separation is the process of keeping items distinct in memory and is mediated by the hippocampus. Previous studies have suggested that there is a relationship between hippocampal function and diet quality in both humans and animals.

To examine the association between them, the researchers used rats, feeding over seven generations a diet containing increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids. This diet composition is characteristic of a diet known as the Western diet. The researchers administered it transgenerationally because previous studies have shown that interventional diets need to be implemented over several generations to induce behavioral effects.

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They compared the spatial pattern separation (or local discrimination) performance of these animals with that of rats fed a standard diet. For the test, they presented the rats two locations and allowed them to learn across trials to respond to the correct location. During spatial discrimination training, they designated a location as the correct one and rewarded the rats if they touched the correct location. They reversed the correct and incorrect locations every time the rats successfully got the correct ones nine times out of 10 trials.

The researchers found a separation-dependent difference between the standard and Western diet groups in the number of discriminations performed in the pattern separation task. The rats fed with a Western diet performed fewer discriminations. Rats with lesions in the dorsal hippocampus showed impaired pattern separation when the locations were close together but not when they were far apart. The researchers associated this impairment with hippocampal dysfunctioning. Their results align with previous studies which demonstrated that consumption of a Western diet impaired cognitive functions, damaged brain regions, and contributed to the occurrence of neurodegenerative diseases. Their results confirmed that pattern separation could be negatively affected by transgenerational administration of a Western diet.

The researchers concluded that spatial pattern separation can help detect the effects of dietary interventions and that the Western diet can impair pattern separation.

How to make your diet healthier

A healthy diet can provide many benefits, the most important of which is the prevention of chronic diseases. Here are some things that you can do to make your diet healthier:

  • Eat slowly
  • Choose whole grains
  • Add probiotics to your diet
  • Increase your protein intake
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid frying food and eating fast food
  • Take vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Try new and healthy recipes
  • Eat vegetables first before every meal
  • Eat fruits instead of drinking them
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop drinking sweetened beverages
  • Get adequate sleep

Eating healthier and becoming aware of your nutritional needs will not only improve your physical health, but these will also benefit your mental and emotional well-being.

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Apples: Eat them to keep the doctor away – and boost stem cell therapy

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(Natural News) There is some truth behind the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are superfoods, and they are good sources of antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative damage and boost the immune system. They also contain dietary fiber, which is good for digestion and the maintenance of gut microbiota. But there is more to apples than just being healthy, antioxidant fruits. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrition Research, researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea showed the beneficial effect of apple extracts on the proliferation of adult stem cells. They also identified the possible molecular mechanisms underlying apple’s pro-proliferative effects.

Apple ethanol extracts can enhance the proliferation of stem cells useful for tissue regeneration

Tissue regeneration using adult stem cells (ASCs) has significant potential in the treatment of many degenerative diseases. It also provides a promising means of repairing chronic tissue or organ failure due to injuries, congenital defects, and aging. Stem cells are essential in regenerative medicine because they can be used directly in cell replacement therapies. However, studies on their application in clinical settings suggest that age negatively affects the proliferation status and differentiation potential of ASCs. This presents a possible limitation in their therapeutic use.

In the hopes of addressing this limitation, researchers turned their attention to the pro-proliferative activity of apples. Apples are rich sources of valuable phytochemicals that are known to be beneficial to human health. They possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anticancer activities. These antioxidants can help maintain human cells and protect them from harmful oxidation products. In addition, apples contain metabolites that could ensure longevity and increase the number of human cells in culture. (Related: Apples could hold key for increasing lifespan.)

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Because of this, researchers hypothesized that apple extracts might exert beneficial effects on ASCs. They obtained apple extracts using ethanol as the extraction solvent and tested these on human adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADSCs) and human cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (CB-MSCs). They also used 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide and Click-iT 5-ethynyl-2?-deoxyuridine flow cytometry assays to evaluate the pro-proliferative effects of the extracts.

The researchers found that treatment with apple extracts promoted the proliferation of ADSCs and CB-MSCs. Apple extracts also induced the stepwise phosphorylation of p44/42 MAPK (ERK), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), p70 S6 kinase (p70S6K), S6 ribosomal protein (S6RP), eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4B, and eIF4E in ADSCs. p44/42 MAPK (ERK) is a signaling pathway involved in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation. Inhibition of this pathway results in cell apoptosis. mTOR is a key signaling node that coordinates cell cycle progression and cell growth. p70S6K is a cytokine that regulates cell growth by inducing protein synthesis. eIFs, on the other hand, are proteins or protein complexes involved in translation and protein biosynthesis.

The researchers also reported that apple extracts significantly induced the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) in both ADSCs and CB-MSCs. VEGF is a potent angiogenic factor, which means it promotes the formation of blood vessels. VEGF also plays a role in other physiological functions, such as hematopoiesis, wound healing, and development. IL-6 is a promoter of proliferation. The researchers further confirmed that the apple extract-induced proliferation of ADSCs under serum-free conditions is mediated by ERK-dependent cytokine production because when they pre-treated cells with PD98059, a specific ERK inhibitor, it inhibited the phosphorylation of the mTOR/p70S6K/S6RP/eIF4B/eIF4E pathway.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that extracts from apples are potent pro-proliferative agents, and the beneficial effect of apple extract on the proliferation of ASCs may overcome the limitation in their therapeutic use in tissue regeneration.

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