There are four overdose-related deaths each day in B.C.
In 2018, there were 1,510 overdoses in the province.
Eighty-eight per cent of these people die alone.
These were just some of the startling statistics displayed at Tuesday’s National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis event outside the Courtenay Courthouse.
Approximately 30 people showed up to the event, many carrying signs or black crosses, some with skulls painted on their faces, and even one carrying a large black coffin. On a table sat a number of naloxone kits for people to take, and information about places to turn to for help.
Set up in the grassy area outside the courthouse was Judith Conway’s overdose display, which was recently blessed by the Pope.
As the group left the courthouse to march the streets of downtown, the procession shouted, “What do we want? Safe supply. When do we want it? Now.”
The local event, put on by Addicts and Allies Humanizing Addiction, is part of a national initiative by the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs.
According to their Facebook page, the goals of the event include getting the government to declare a national public health emergency, ensure safe drug supplies, get a drug identification number for heroin, decriminalize people who use drugs and provide emergency funding for overdose prevention sites.
“I’m an addict myself. I went into recovery about 14 months ago to treatment with some success,” said Maddison Alexander, a member of AAHA. “I got quite terrified of using on the streets and having a premature death. I’m only 23 and my mom’s been through so much with me already through me being an addict … It was too much for me to picture her burying her daughter.”
Alexander says safe supply is needed, as well as more overdose prevention sites – like the one at AIDS Vancouver Island – so that people can get their drugs tested for fentanyl and have supervision in case of an overdose.
While over 3,200 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses between January and September of 2018, no one has died in an overdose prevention site to date.
Alexander compared addiction to a disease, explaining that addicts need drugs or alcohol to survive and maintain their lives and health. This is why education on safe drug use is important – for everyone, not just addicts.
“There’s a great huge line that’s drawn between users and people who are not using , but the fact of the matter is, it’s such a grey area that we all wander in and out of throughout our lives, the more people who are aware of how to use [safely], it makes it so that it’s a more comfortable and safe community,” said Alexander.
People who use substances still face a lot of stigma, something that can stand in their way of accessing help. Through this event and continued discussions, Alexander hopes to see stronger communities form.
“It is a national emergency and we want that statement to be out there so as a nation, as a community, we’re all banded together and realizing that it is in everybody’s hands to make a difference.”