'Change is possible'

Josh Winquist

Jacob Philp can pinpoint the exact moment his life changed — the no-turning-back moment.

He remembers walking into the bathroom of his apartment to find his then-girlfriend slumped on the floor, next to her was a piece of tinfoil. 

"She said it was heroin." Jacob remembers she was ashamed.

Without fear of consequence or any nervousness around trying something unknown to him, he grabbed a lighter. He placed the flame under the tinfoil to heat the heroin and drew in a deep breath, inhaling the smoke that came off. 

"I don't remember much after that," Jacob says. "I remember being in my bed, my eyes were closed. She (girlfriend) thought I was overdosing. She said, 'I'm going to put something to your lips. Just inhale, it is going to wake you up. It will help you.' 

I remember the feeling of it on my lips," he says. "I inhaled, and I perked right up. It was meth."

Within a matter of minutes, Jacob had tried both heroin and crystal meth for the first time.

That was it. That was the turning point. 

Up until then, at 24 years old Jacob was a young man on a 'good path.'  He had a good job — an apprenticeship under his dad. He had a car and an apartment. He had passion and dreams for his future. He had a strong, close family.

It only took a matter of weeks for the addiction to cost him his job. 

It was only a matter of months for the addiction to cost him his apartment and car. 

Within a few more months Jacob was sleeping at his dealer's house, relying on theft to feed his addiction.

It wasn't long after that Jacob was completely homeless, living on the streets of Kelowna.

Over four years Jacob's addiction cost him nearly everything. It pushed his family, freedom and life to the very edge.

Jacob says right after his first experience with heroin and meth, he knew he found something. Something to keep him awake when he needed to be awake or to help him fall asleep when he needed to be asleep.

"I had looked at this girl who had done heroin, and yes she was sleeping on my floor, but I couldn't see the truth behind her life. She had a front on ... She had clearly been doing this and her life didn't look like it was in shambles." 

Jacob had dabbled with almost every other drug from his teens to his young adult life. 

He was told, "don't do cocaine, it will ruin your life." He had done it, and it didn't. 

He had even been prescribed pharmaceutical opiates, something he admits to abusing.  

"I took more than what I was told to take, and I felt shitty after, but it wasn't as bad as what people were saying... and I knew that heroin was an opiate."

The fear from past experiences with other drugs wasn't there, and Jacob's immediate view of his girlfriend and her life made it seem like maybe there would be no addiction. No problems. "It didn't look like it was that bad," Jacob says. 

Jacob and his girlfriend would stay up all night using drugs. They would nod out on heroin once in a while throughout the night, and Jacob would wake up exhausted. He would then smoke "a whole bunch of meth" to perk himself up to go to work.

"I would use drugs at work because I would think it would help me. It made me feel like Superman, so I could do my job better. Within a month, I had lost my job."

Jacob was getting skinnier and skinnier, in an unhealthy way. He knew he was physically changing but in his mind, he wasn't changing at all. In his mind, he was looking good.

"I couldn't see this addiction, but I didn't really understand what being addicted meant."

Jacob was doing whatever he could to sustain his addiction. He stole, a lot, mostly thefts under $5,000.

Jacob didn't consider himself an addict, but he would use the term for sympathy, or to get what he wanted. He'd say he was addicted to heroin. He'd tell people he was sick, hoping to get either another hit from his dealer or a few bucks from a friend or parent. 

Jacob says at that point he wasn't thinking of himself in terms of either a good or bad person, he was just a person who used drugs.

"I knew I was a heroin user, but I didn't think of myself as a junkie," he says. "Never once in my addiction did I ever use needles. I only ever smoked the drugs, and I thought as long as I smoke them I wasn't that bad of a heroin addict. I wasn't that bad of a person. I wasn't a junkie."

Three years on, and Jacob was arrested. He spent several months in Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre. He had accumulated several charges while living on the streets and was looking at a substantial sentence. 

He was let out on bail, but while in KRCC things had changed. Heroin wasn't a thing anymore. All of his dealers, all of his people, were using fentanyl. 

Jacob dove in quickly and deeply. He says in just a few months he must have overdosed more than a dozen times from fentanyl. 

He remembers one time waking up in the hospital after being almost declared dead. He says he could see in the corner of his eye his parents crying. 

Jacob says at that moment he didn't feel sad that he had almost died on them, he was mad because they had injected him with naloxone, getting rid of the high.

Jacob was walking the line, straddling life and death, and he knew it. 

He had friends literally die on him. Two friends fatally overdosed while using with Jacob. In both situations, Jacob was too high to save them.  

"The hardest part to process is that I didn't feel a thing. Not a damn thing. I didn't shed one tear for those people or their families."

Jacob called it, just another casualty to the life.

The physical, emotional and mental pain felt when coming off of these drugs was excruciating, says Jacob.

"It can drive a person to do anything to get rid of that pain. It is hard to explain but when you are coming down from these drugs, the pain and loneliness and suffering you feel is unlike anything I ever imagined was real in this world." 

Jacob says the only way he knew how to get rid of the pain was to use more drugs. 

"Every day that I was living that life, every single day I wanted to change, and so did the people that I knew. We didn't want to live that life anymore. It is not that we choose to live that way or want to live that way, it is that we didn't know how to change." 

It got to the point Jacob stopped caring.

"I was at my end. I was praying I got hit by a bus. I was ready for the end of that suffering."

For two months, every day Jacob would call to get into treatment. Every day he would get an answering machine. Then on a day, when Jacob was at his lowest, all options exhausted and looking for an out of any kind, he gets the callback and is admitted to a treatment facility. 

"I was lucky," he says. "But even getting into treatment wasn't guaranteed success."

Going through treatment, every moment in the back of his mind was the thought that "once I get out, I can go back to that life."

But as the days passed he began to see little miracles. He saw the relationships with his family mending.  
For more than a year now, Jacob has been clean and sober. 

He is working with the John Howard Society in Vernon, helping others who are in the very same situation he was in for four years.

"I can see that with some of the people that I work with today there is a lot of bias and unfair views on them."

Jacob believes when it comes to the homeless-addicted there's a lack of funding, a lack of information, a lack of support and a lack of empathy. 

"When you are in that situation and people are looking at you that way, it is hard to feel motivated to try to change... I had that feeling, like people were going to look at me like a criminal addict regardless of whether I want to be that or not."

Jacob hears about the interactions between the people he works with and the larger Vernon community. He can relate to those situations because he has been there. 

Another city, but the same situations. 

"I was that person committing thefts and breaking into people's businesses, leaving garbage around and sleeping wherever I could sleep. I was that person, and I changed."

Jacobs says in order to succeed the person who is addicted has to really, really want it, and then things have to work out. 

He admits he was lucky. He had the family support. He was able to get the help he needed, but not without a lot of luck.  

"Change is possible, Jacob says. "I was responsible for all kinds of shit in my community, there were tons of people who hated me. But, here I am today, a completely changed person, trying to give back to the community that helped me change."

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