Hamilton music community hosts overdose training as opioid crisis grips city

Ace Piva knows the dangers of opioid addiction all too well.

He’s seen it up close — both as a tour manager across Canada, and as an addictions counsellor in Hamilton.

Now, as overdoses and deaths due to opioid use continue to mount across the city, Piva has launched an addiction and recovery nonprofit organization specifically for the music industry. It’s called Over the Bridge — a nod to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ breakout hit Under the Bridge, which was written about addiction, loneliness and dependency.

Tonight, Piva is hosting a naloxone training and overdose prevention awareness event at This Ain’t Hollywood, in an effort to save lives in an industry where the party rarely stops.

“We basically host parties every single night of the week, and things happen. We want to keep ourselves and the people who attend those parties safe,” he said.

“We want to be able to be there for people in a moment of crisis.”

Piva has been in the music industry for 22 years — but it was an interaction between a musician and a fan that sent him down a road of trying to help people.

Hoping to meet the artist who saved his life

The artist had written several songs about his own recovery from addiction, which really resonated with the fan, who in turn reached out to Piva. The fan told him that he had overdosed three times, and had even clinically died — twice.

He also said it was this artist’s music and songs about recovery that helped get him sober, and asked if he could set up a meeting to thank him for everything his music had done.

“He came out to the show to meet the artist who saved his life … but he couldn’t, because the artist himself had relapsed,” Piva said.

Hamilton paramedic Heidi Mazelow holds a vial of naloxone, which paramedics use to treat opioid overdoses.(Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It was then that he decided to go back to school and train as an addictions counsellor, in an attempt to save lives.

On the way, he has seen how dire the situation is in Hamilton.

“I’ve had multiple clients die over the last couple of years because of opioids,” he said.

According to the latest available city statistics, 52 Hamilton residents died from opioid toxicity last year, which is a death rate 48 per cent higher than the provincial average.

For the week of Nov. 13 to 19 alone, 58 people sought care at Hamilton emergency departments for drug misuse or overdoses, the city says. The city is now exploring the idea of a supervised injection site, where people could inject drugs without fear of legal consequences, and under the care of medical professionals.

“The reality is it affects everyone from stay at home moms to musicians,” Piva said. “Addiction affects everybody.”

‘It’s a different world’

Monday’s event, which is co-hosted by Canadian Addiction Treatment Centres, will include naloxone training. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that was first developed in the 1960s. When injected into a person who is overdosing, it can reverse the effects of prescription opiates for about 10 minutes, which is long enough to get them to hospital.

The event is being hosted at This Ain’t Hollywood, but the club hasn’t had any overdoses happen inside, said co-owner Lou Molinaro. Still, he said, staff and the broader music community as a whole should be prepared just in case.

Ace Piva is a tour manager and addictions counsellor in Hamilton. (Ace Piva/Facebook)

“We are at bar. Our customers are different on a nightly basis. It’s our responsibility to be ready and informed. At any point you can save someone’s life,” Molinaro said.

“It’s a different world. This is a reality check as well as a barometer on things that are occurring in our city.”

Monday’s event is happening at 8 p.m. at This Ain’t Hollywood at 345 James St. N. Piva says the event is open to anyone involved in the music community, from musicians and promoters to bartenders and security.

Interested parties should attend with a valid health card, and show up a little early to get a jump start on signing up, he says.


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