On International Overdose Awareness Day, member groups of the Community Action Team (CAT) held an event at Spirit Square to memorialize those who have died from overdose over the past year and to offer resources for those in need.
On Tuesday morning, the B.C. Coroners Service released data on overdoses so far in 2021. In the first half of the year, at least 1,011 people have died from illicit drug toxicity in the province.
“It’s just so sad and disheartening that we’re six years into this crisis and our numbers are getting worse,” said Dr. Erika Kellerhals, a doctor who specializes in addiction medicine. “I think today has many reasons, but it’s to reflect on lives lost, to reflect on our brothers and sisters, family members, community members, but it’s also to look forward, to link people to resources and advocate for homes for people, shelters for people, a safe drug supply.”
By comparison, in the same time roughly 1,078 people have died from COVID-19. While COVID-19 has had much more of the public’s attention than the overdose crisis, advocates say that the COVID-19 pandemic is making things harder for people who are using illicit substances.
“COVID has made things way more difficult for people struggling with substance use,” said Kellerhals. Issues include “treatment centres being closed, more difficulty accessing services (and) drug toxicity.”
At least seven of the illicit substance-deaths in the province have happened in the Campbell River area. The CAT team created a memorial for those people. Six purple kites were on display at the event, one for each year of the overdose crisis. The team also allowed people to make kite tails with names of their loved ones who have passed away to add to the memorial
“I know as the first four or five months of the year we had seven people in our community alone, and in the past week it’s been hitting our community pretty hard,” said Gwen Donaldson of CAT. “We’re flying kites with a number of representative ties on the tail… just as a visual representation of how many people this has affected in our community.”
Also at the event were pop-up Naloxone training opportunities, where people could learn to administer the life-saving drug to people experiencing an overdose. People also could make mini murals with local artist and BIA member Heather Gordon Murphy, which will be placed downtown to show people they are cared about.
Though the event brought together the many resources available to Campbell Riverites in need of support, Kellerhals and Donaldson said that stigma is still a major hindrance for people getting the help they need.
“I think the most important thing is that everybody’s in a different place,” Donaldson said. “You need to tell somebody. I know with any journey, a lot of this stuff thrives in secrecy, and it thrives under the radar and in isolation. I would say just tell somebody. That’s a good start.”
“There’s a lot of resources,” added Kellerhals, mentioning a newly announced program at the Campbell River Hospital — the LOUD (Learning about Opioid Use Disorder) initiative.
“It was a province-wide initiative. Through some funding we have people with lived experience working in the emergency and in the hospital. Some people with addiction issues are really really scared to seek medical care or go to hospital,” she explained. “We’re trying to do everything to try to make it safer, to lessen stigma and discrimination.
“I don’t want to lie, the stigma and discrimination still exists for people,” she added. “You don’t want to be isolated, but people are rightfully afraid to admit they have a problem. They can get linked up with resources, reach out to mental health workers, talk to trusted individuals.”