Tracy Masters took her effort to empathize, encourage and educate to the streets on Saturday for the first ever International Overdose Awareness Day Walk held in Campbell River.
Masters lost her daughter to overdose this past March. Since then she has become an advocate and supporter of spreading awareness and breaking the stigma of suffering. She and her sister Kristy started the group Masters of Hope back in May in hopes she could help create a safe place for people to have conversations surrounding mental health and addictions struggles. She knew it would be valuable for a few people, but she had no idea the response would be so emphatic. The group has grown to over 250 online members in just the first few months.
“I honestly didn’t think it would explode like this. I knew there was a need, but I was thinking maybe we’d get a nice little group of 10 or 15 people who don’t feel the stigma and would come out and talk, but it feels like the more people talk about it, the more people come out and join up online and it’s even made me more aware of things I’d known before my daughter passed. I knew she was struggling, but you don’t realize just how many people are.”
She didn’t know how the walk would go, either, and it, too, exceeded her expectations.
“The need in town is so much that I was hoping there would be more than five people show up,” she says with a laugh. “It was on such short notice, and oh, my goodness, I’m so pleased with the turnout. I think people are realizing the need for the fight for people to be aware and the need to speak up and break the stigma that we have, not just in Campbell River, but for everybody. There are so many out there who don’t reach out and speak to somebody. That’s what it’s all about.”
And, based on the response, it won’t be a one-off.
“It’s just going to grow and grow as each year goes by,” Masters says. “For me, it’s a passion to keep my daughter’s memory alive and I feel her here with me,” she says. “I don’t want anybody to die alone like she did … so the more awareness, the better.”
But it also can’t just be one day each year that the conversation happens. How they’ll continue the fight to keep the conversation happening isn’t clear yet, Masters says, but she’s confident they’ll find a way.
“This is all new to me,” she says. “I’m also involved with the Campbell River Community Action Team, and of course, it’s a high priority for them to look at Campbell River and what’s happening with the overdose rates and breaking stigma and bringing more awareness, so we’re hoping to bring some dialogue sessions to Campbell River, and I would love to see, of course, from the top of the chain, more funding available to put on more events like this, more treatment centres, more harm reduction, but it’s a day-by-day progression. But the more we talk, the fewer people will suffer alone, hopefully. The fewer people will die alone.
“We’re all human. We all need a little more compassion and to know that somebody is there. That we’re not alone.”
The group meets on Tuesday nights from 6 to 7 p.m. at the longhouse at Robert Ostler Park downtown, where the walk began and ended on Saturday, but Masters says they’re looking for somewhere a little cozier to host them.
“With the weather changing any day now, we’d like to find a place inside somewhere,” she says. “I’ve asked around, and I understand that everyone wants some funds for their space, but we’ve just started this and it’s become so big that it’s, like, when the weather changes, where are we going?”
Saturday’s event wasn’t just about increasing the visibility of the issue, although that was the most important aspect, Masters says. They also had various educational materials on hand to pass out to those who wanted them, as well as naloxone kits provided by AVI Health and Community Services, who put on a free course the previous day at Spirit Square on how to use the kits. But for those who haven’t been trained in their use, Masters says, “it’s really straightforward. There are instructions inside and videos to watch on how to do it, and you can’t cause harm by using them,” so she encouraged those attending to take one with them on their way out of the park on Saturday.
For more information on Masters of Hope, visit their Facebook page by searching “Masters of Hope” or contact her directly by email at Lupifirstname.lastname@example.org, especially if you have any ideas for where the group can meet once the weather turns in the next few weeks.