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Sault drug documentary; ‘Stop being ashamed and start helping,’ Murphy says

Local entertainer says CTV documentary not an attack on the Sault, but a look at opioid abuse in general; says all government levels, society as a whole, must address addictions, mental health
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20180212-Timothy Murphy photo supplied
Timothy Murphy, local entertainer and former Algoma Public Health employee, says many people have taken the wrong view of a documentary depicting opioid abuse in Sault Ste. Marie, saying more staffing and resources are needed to deal with the problem. Photo supplied by Timothy Murphy

Timothy Murphy, a well-known local entertainer, is upset with the reaction from some Saultites toward Steel Town Down: Overdose Crisis In The Soo, a documentary aired by CTV Saturday.

Murphy feels many locals have taken the wrong view of the hour-long documentary – the result of a partnership between W5 and Vice Canada - which sheds light on opioid abuse in the city, as a shaming of the Sault as opposed to a look at the problem of opioid addiction in itself. 

“I love Sault Ste. Marie and I’m as proud of our city as most people who live here, we’re passionate about our hometown and we know about all the good that’s here, and this documentary, I don’t think, discounts that,” Murphy told SooToday Monday.

“I think it’s possible for a terrific city full of wonderful, caring people to have a crisis and still be a good city.”

“I kept getting the message from the documentary that this wasn’t about Sault Ste. Marie, but a national and international crisis, it’s not going away and we can’t keep ignoring it and we can’t take it personally (as Sault residents).”

“People are reacting, saying they’re ashamed of our city. There’s no shame in addiction and mental health issues. Stop being ashamed and start helping,” Murphy said.

“This could be anywhere, it just so happened they (the documentary makers) used our city,” Murphy said, adding he knows of other communities which are also facing acute opioid abuse problems.  

Murphy, a former Algoma Public Health (APH) employee who served as artistic director of the health unit’s Youth Engagement Theatre (YET) program, said “it’s a matter of educating and awareness, funding and staffing, and this is where I think we’re falling down, not as a community but as a society as a whole.” 

Murphy said municipal leadership, upper levels of government, and society in general must help with the problem of opioid abuse.

“People are so disconnected from addiction, mental health and disease and you can’t keep living in a bubble, we’re all a part of the same community.”

“You can’t keep living in a bubble. Whether it’s Jamestown or Shannon Road, it doesn’t matter where you live, it’s affecting us all.”  

Murphy said he senses, after watching the documentary, there is a shortage of professionals dealing with drugs and overdoses at Sault Area Hospital and other local healthcare facilities.

“That’s the Ontario government, that’s the government of Canada, that’s our broken health care system…we have waiting lists for counsellors. It really is a big mess and it needs to be looked at from every level of government.”

Murphy said he is encouraged an application from Sault Area Hospital (SAH) for a new, $11 million withdrawal management centre is in the works.

Murphy, who at one time struggled with a crack cocaine addiction, said “I was fortunate enough to do inpatient rehab in Toronto when I lived there, along with support from family and friends.”

“Without the professional support and resources in Toronto, I don’t think I’d be alive today.”

Since the documentary aired Saturday, Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano has reconfirmed municipal leadership’s willingness to hear a presentation from SAH on opioid use, stating, through social media, “SAH will be at our next Council meeting outlining the project for Council (and the community) and we will commit to help SAH get the funding it needs.” 

Murphy said he isn’t sure of what role he’ll play in raising awareness going forward in a community plan to fight opioid abuse.

“I’ll be a set of ears and if anyone has any suggestion for me how to help (I will)…I would like to attend the meeting and see if there’s a place for me to help if I can. I need to find out more about what the plan is.”