This profile of Jasmin Canfield, manager of substance use treatment at Alameda Health System, is excerpted from The San Francisco Chronicle special feature, How seven lives were ‘forever changed’ by the overdose crisis.

Jasmine Canfield, Alameda Health SYstem

Jasmin Canfield, a licensed social worker with Alameda Health System, stands inside Wilma Chan Highland Hospital in Oakland. She says addressing the core issues of substance use and providing easy access into recovery programs is what people suffering from addiction need.

I see substance use as a secondary issue, and the primary issue is trauma. In order to work through someone’s substance use, there are many things that we can do, but we really have to get to the core of the issue.

Here, we are seeing people who really are in pain and want to escape that pain. And this is their question: How can I relieve myself of this physical or emotional pain or trauma? Just coming to a space like this helps to address that. We start with meeting people where they are. A lot of times they are tired. They’re tired of living with the suffering.

I had a client whose substance abuse was benzodiazepine and opiates. One day, she came in and she was slightly sedated. At one point, I looked over, and she was pretty much slumped to the side. I called her name out, she didn’t respond. I shook her leg, she didn’t respond. I tried to feel for a pulse, but I couldn’t find a pulse. So I Narcan’d her.

By the time she really started to come out of it, she was pissed. It was a lot of expletives. And I think for many people, the response would be, “Why is she upset when someone just saved her life?” What I think is important for us to understand is that somebody who is taking substances is not intending to actually overdose. Their intention is to relieve themselves of whatever emotional or physical pain that they are suffering from.

What we need is to provide easy access into programs, with easy access to everything that you need: medications, case management, individual counseling, group therapy, support groups, child care. I love the transformation of people. I want to help them get to their best self. It’s really about having them say what they want their lives to look like — and us trying to support them in that.


Read the full San Francisco Chronicle article, How seven lives were ‘forever changed’ by the drug overdose crisis, here.