Homeless, destitute Olympian seeks Trudeau’s attention to end stigma around addiction - Sovereign Health Group
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Paul James, former Olympic athlete and soccer star who represented Canada at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and the 1986 FIFA World Cup, has been on a hunger strike since Jan. 25, 2017, to draw attention to the fact that people with addiction should be treated with dignity and respect.

Addicted to crack cocaine for 20 years, James is a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame and has also worked as a media commentator.

Apart from going on a hunger strike, he has uploaded a video on YouTube, addressing Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau. In the video, he announces that he will continue to starve until the Canadian government recognizes the stigma that goes hand-in-hand with drug addiction. Currently, James is homeless, penniless and a destitute.

Tracing Olympian’s route to homelessness

Originally from Wales, U.K., James arrived in Canada in 1980 and found a job coaching at York University in Toronto. Six years later the university won provincial and national titles that the York Lions had never accomplished in the past. James admitted he was using crack cocaine at that point but was able to function.

At some point, when he disclosed his addiction to his colleagues, he was ordered to take three weeks off for recovery. He checked into a rehab and on contacting the University after getting sober, he discovered that he had been removed from the position of a coach.

According to James, he was forced to resign in 2009 and he calls it discrimination and harassment at York. The university confirmed his resignation and said the university “has policies and procedures to support employees who require accommodation in the workplace, including an Employee Well-Being Office.”

When James filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal in 2012, his application was dismissed due to the one-year statute having expired. He responded that he was late due to depression caused by losing his job and livelihood. He appealed but his appeal was rejected.

The filing documented that James experienced crack cocaine addiction combined with depression since 2000, three years before he began his coaching duties. The filing noted that there was no substantiation of his problem being divulged to his employers at the university. Eventually, James drained his savings, became homeless and was arrested twice.

Colleagues in disbelief

James’ former teammates were astonished when they heard the news about his plight. Peyvand Mossavat, a former teammate who now calls James a mentor, said, “I was absolutely floored, he was hard-working and disciplined, he led by example.” Mossavat is currently coaching soccer at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. He recently received a Coach of the Year award that he dedicated to James.

Seeking recovery from addiction

Mental illness and addiction can happen to anyone and anytime, cutting across gender, race, religion, wealth and sexual orientation. Awareness and education can help crush stigma around addiction and mental health disorders.

Performance coach and sports psychologist Dr. Beth McCharles said that in her practice, anxiety is rampant and that young people have an “enormous fear of failure.” She is a former coach of the University of Toronto soccer team and occasionally coached against James.

Sovereign Health is in the vanguard treating mental health disorders and addiction. Since these two conditions can appear concurrently, it is necessary to understand the symptoms of both the diseases. The co-occurrence of a mental disorder and addiction is known as dual diagnosis and on admission, we examine every patient for the presence of any underlying condition so that all the conditions can be treated simultaneously. Addiction is a brain disease requiring skillful therapy, not a jail cell.

About the author

Veronica McNamara is a content writer for Sovereign Health. She is a former registered nurse who enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness which, unfortunately, still bears an unwarranted stigma. For more information and other inquiries on this article, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com.

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