Tweak Easy provides safe haven for inhalant drug users in Peterborough
Tweak Easy, a community organization in Peterborough that has been providing a safe space for drug addicts for 11 months, is raising funds for next winter.
“The reason we call ourselves Tweak Easy is because it’s supposed to be like a speakeasy. It’s a word-of-mouth thing,” founder Crystal Hebert told The Examiner. “The only people who know where and when we’re going to be are the people accessing space and those volunteering.”
The group sets up a semi-enclosed tent once a week, in areas where substance use is common, to provide a safe space for users. Tweak Easy provides food, water and supplies to homeless people, as well as access to lifesaving naloxone in the event of an overdose.
“We operate with about three volunteers for each shift,” Hebert said. “It’s a very beautiful thing, and it kind of came out of some of my other work. I’ve done a lot of community organizing, marches, rallies, blockades, and vigils since I started doing overdose prevention and awareness work in 2018 or 2019.”
Hebert has worked with homeless people in Peterborough for 10 years and actively fights to end the stigma associated with substance use. She thinks words like overdose blame the individual, when the real problem is a tainted drug supply.
“This stigma is literally killing people,” Hebert said.
Hebert clarified that Tweak Easy does not provide medication, but rather fills a necessary void when it comes to supervised injection sites, which cannot accommodate inhaler users. She mentioned a friend who died from tainted drugs and would not have been saved by traditional safe injection sites.
“There was a lot of discussion around if the safe injection site was open, would she have been saved,” Hebert said. “And I said no immediately, because she was not a regular injection drug user. She was an inhalation user, and an injection site wouldn’t have saved her life.
More than half of their user base are inhalation users, who cannot be protected due to laws under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, she said. These users are subsequently at higher risk of fatal overdoses, she explained.
“We’ve gone from a tendency to find people with needles in their arms and hands, to lighters and pipes,” Hebert said. “People thought smoking was safer, and it’s not. You can still die and you can still suffer the effects of the Toxic Supply.
Even stimulants like crack and methamphetamine are contaminated with benzodiazepines and carfentanil, Hebert explained. To date, 684 users have visited Tweak Easy, with 25 to 50 entering each night of operation, which runs from sunset until 10 p.m. Despite this, the group still operates in a legal gray area.
“We have to be very careful. We are not intentionally trying to break the law. We are not here to sell drugs. We’re not here to give out drugs,” Hebert said.
She noted that city police have been friendly and respectful in the few interactions they’ve had, acknowledging what the group is trying to do.
“It’s about handing over to those who come behind you,” Hebert said. “When I was on the streets and in an active addiction, that’s definitely something I would have used.”
Hebert says similar groups are popping up in places like Toronto and Kingston. He was also asked to put together a Tweak Easy in Campbellford. She hopes that with donations and additional volunteers, the group can grow and be available on a daily basis.
Tweak Easy currently runs a GoFundMe to raise money for supplies and an ice fishing style tent for the winter months.