Holiday special to raise funds, awareness for Canadian harm reduction initiative

·5 min read

For more than a decade, Joe Amero has been a frontline social worker in shelters helping people deal with homelessness and addiction issues. He draws upon his own lived experiences with drug use and has always been a prolific guy, dabbling in entertainment through punk rock, hip hop and more recently, comedy.

Once COVID hit he left live comedy; his improv troupe, The Pepperoni Pizza Cats, folded, and he hasn’t been back to a show since.

“I have no plans to,” he said “Over time I grew to where I’m not chasing that anymore.”

He hasn’t left comedy behind completely though. A sequel to his one-man show “Blood,” which mixed his lived experience with his art was going to be his next big project.

“It’s a show I’m still going to do called Drugs! (The Musical),” said Amero. “It’s all about my history with drugs, but it’s a musical.”

Since the pandemic got in the way of his plans, he found another way to draw some attention to the overdose crisis before he tells his own story.

“I wanted to draw attention to it so I had the idea for a fundraiser,” he said. “How do you promote a fundraiser about drugs? Well, you make it like a weird 24-hour telethon because nobody has a telephone and nobody knows what a telethon is so it was just absurd.”

Drugs! (The Musical) (The Telethon) was conceived and the idea snowballed. He ended up with a five-hour preshow and the 24-hour telethon became 28 hours. Amero describes the project as “a beast” but he made it through it and so far it has raised about $7,000 for harm reduction across Canada.

Now he is just putting the finishing touches on Drugs! (For the Holidays) which will be available on YouTube and most social media platforms on Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. to bring the donations up to $14,000, so that each of the community partners will receive a contribution of $1,000.

The community partners from across Canada are: Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, Hamilton AIDS Network, The Association Québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des personnes utilisatrices de drogues, The ALLY Centre of Cape Breton/Sharp Advice Needle Exchange, Avenue B, SUNAR - Substance User Network of the Atlantic Region, AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador, Turning Point, Prairie Harm Reduction, Manitoba Harm Reduction Network, Moms Stop The Harm, Yellowknife Women’s Society/Yellowknife Street Outreach, Blood Ties Four Directions Centre and Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line.

“My friends are dying in real life,” said Amero. “There have been overdoses and it’s just been non-stop. You know what I mean. Just like no reprieve.”

To link up this telethon he has thrown together with the partnered initiatives, he had to rely on his friends, many of whom are also survivors of lived experience with drug use.

“They are all psychiatric nurses and social workers all across the country and they have iron-clad reputations and vouched for me – this guy is the real deal, you’ve got to get on board,” said Amero. “It took so much work just to get 14 initiatives. I researched and handpicked 14 separate initiatives so there would be one in every province or territory, two in Ontario.”

Essentially his goal was to connect the whole country through a network of harm reduction initiatives.

“So if you needed help anywhere we’d have someone in your area and if they couldn’t help you they would certainly have the resources to refer you to someone who could,” he said. “I didn’t want to use their name for fundraising without their permission. That took months and months and thanks to my friends across the country, some good people who have worked in the field for all these years since we got out of all these drugs ourselves …Word got around and everybody joined in so I’ve got good partners.”

For Amero, the whole idea was that this fundraiser would be one big love letter to all of the people doing harm reduction across the country in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, working through the silent pandemic – which is the overdose crisis.

“Just to say thank you and let them know we see you,” he said. “It’s like harm reduction is a vacuum. It’s a tight-knit community so everybody is just screaming in a vacuum. We’re just listening to each other so the idea of this was to maybe bridge it a little more… to raise awareness to the general population.”

While he hopes people will find the videos he has spent most of this year making entertaining, he has also set them up so they can be a teaching tool. The telethon has been broken into 24 segments on topics like grief, death and detox.

“We had a lot of cool contributors,” said Amero. “Comedians, I have a lot of friends from comedy, social workers, I’ve been working in social work for about 10 years. I have a lot of connections there. As well, people who used drugs because I am one. I was one for a long time so I know a lot of them too. I tried to just pull out all the stops and get everybody to throw down. I think it was a resounding success.”

Drugs! (For the Holidays) was slated to be a one-hour show but it had so many contributors it now clocks in at four hours and 20 minutes.

“I’d like to keep it there just for the lame dad joke of it all,” said Amero. “Drugs: 4:20 dude. Someone will think that’s funny. I think that’s funny.”

Donations can be made at https://gofund.me/04039dc3 and Drugs! (For the Holidays) can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/c/Joeamero or on www.JoeAmero.com.

“It’s going to be everywhere we can, all the social media platforms,” said Amero. “I even did a TikTok page but then I was like ‘I don’t like it here,’ so that stayed dormant.

“I’m too old for that crap. I can’t get down with that. It gives me a migraine.”

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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