Christina Armstrong has conducted other workshops on opiates before with her colleague Kayla Funk.
An upcoming one in Cumberland though will allow her to direct her message to young people and their parents or guardians about dangers from drugs such as fentanyl, preventing overdoses and using Naloxone.
Armstrong, the youth outreach educator for AVI Vancouver Island Health and Community Services, is working in conjunction with the Village of Cumberland to hold the Sept. 1 event to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, held Aug. 31. She already works with youth in the Comox Valley and Campbell River on numerous health issues, but this workshop will be something new.
There have been many drug-related deaths on Vancouver Island, she says, including young people like a 12-year-old girl in Victoria in May.
“Recently, there’s been so many overdoses on the Island,” Armstrong says. “There’s a lot of people who’ve lost loved ones in this community.”
The event will allow her to go through step by step how people should respond to a situation in which someone is in danger.
“It can be very difficult to spot an OD if you don’t know what you’re looking for,” she says.
Participants will learn about overdose prevention and harm reduction tools, how to respond to an emergency, the street supply of narcotics, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act and tips for having a conversation about substance use. Even knowing what to say during a 911 call can be difficult, Armstrong says.
“Substance abuse has been kind of a touchy subject,” she adds.
They will also get hands-on training with a Naloxone kit and can take one with them.
In terms of public discussion, there is progress, Armstrong says, but a key obstacle is changing people’s attitudes around narcotics and health.
“There’s definitely been a shift,” she adds.
The language around the issue is changing, from that of “overdoses” and focus on the user’s actions, to that of a “toxic” or “poisoned” drug supply. Part of the reason for the event is to help fight the stigma around the issue in order to respond to a growing health crisis.
Armstrong says the information will be the same as that from an adult workshop, though the language will be adapted to make it more relatable to young people. The goal is to start the conversation.
“The best compliment I’ve gotten at the end of a workshop is ‘I’m not afraid anymore,’” she says.
The workshop takes place on Wednesday, Sept.1, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Cumberland Community Centre Moncrief Hall. People are required to pre-register for the free event. They can register or get more information from the Village of Cumberland website at cumberland.ca
International Overdose Awareness Day
Also to mark International Overdose Awareness Day will be Time to Remember to Act, an outdoor event near the Comox Valley Art Gallery. The event will offer speakers, performances, community resources and a memorial to the many who have lost their lives.
It happens at the art gallery on Duncan Avenue, between 5th and 6th Street, on Aug. 31 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
The event is being hosted by Indigenous Women’s Sharing Society, Unbroken Chain, Comox Valley Community Action Team (CAT) and AVI.