Everybody wants to speak for overdose victims after their deaths. New laws are passed in their names, their faces adorn the front pages of newspapers, and politicians promise to never again take their lives for granted. But while they’re breathing, nobody wants to listen.

How could they? Policymakers will rarely be in the same room with us.

There’s a psychological cruelty to this that people who haven’t been drug users might not understand. In death, overdose victims are publicly granted the humanity that could have saved their lives in the first place, if only it were offered earlier. They’re spoken about as human beings. In life, you’re an addict, a junkie, or a fiend. These are terms that reduce an entire life into a “problematic behavior.”

Most of us live and die by decisions made in boardrooms that we don’t ever see. Instead, we see the inside of prison cells or morgues. We see friends die, and government exclude us from decisions that determine our livelihood.

British Columbia declared a public health emergency and convened an expert taskforce led by bureaucrats, physicians, and researchers. The people dying were not included. The federal government hosted a national discussion on opioid use last November in Ottawa, and even Health Minister Jane Philpott admitted that Health Canada “left some of the most important voices out of the discussion.”

Exclusion from government decisions won’t stop us from taking leadership. Recently, the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS) and Ottawa Overdose Prevention Society (OPO) opened unsanctioned overdose prevention sites in both cities. These initiatives, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Uses (VANDU) completely user-led overdose prevention site, crush the stigma that suggests drugs users can’t act with agency and take control over a dire situation. If the government won’t remove the politics from their public health approach, then people who use drugs will remove it for them.

Overdose prevention efforts like VANDU, TOPS, and OPO illustrate the solution to the crisis — empowerment in the form of people who use drugs — taking the urgency that governments have been too unconcerned or timid to take and reclaiming what belongs to us: Our health.