VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Vancouver and other parts of the province are glowing purple Monday to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day.
Purple lights are to shine at BC Place in Vancouver, while other parts of B.C. will feature lit walkways and buildings, memorial gardens, and virtual candlelight vigils, along awareness campaigns, social media promotions and the annual Moms Stop the Harm purple ribbon campaign.
The 100-block of East Hastings has also been shut down for a protest and block party to raise awareness of the drug crisis, with testing available on-site.
On #OverdoseAwarenessDay 100-Block of East Hastings has been shut down for a protest & block party to raise awareness on the drug crisis. Drug testing available on site. @CityNewsVAN @NEWS1130 @BT_Vancouver pic.twitter.com/oimPT6nB8I
— Isabelle Raghem (@IsabelleRaghem) August 31, 2020
“Today, we are coming together around the world to raise awareness of overdoses, help reduce the stigma around substance use and recommit to doing everything we can to turn the tide on this terrible crisis,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy says in a release.
“It is a day to remember loved ones who have been lost to this crisis and show our support for their families and friends as they continue to grieve. Each and every person who died was the light of someone’s life, and their absence leaves a profound void.”
In July, B.C. recorded its third straight month with 170 more overdose deaths, with a record 177 in June.
“Now, more than ever, we need to come together with compassion and commitment to prevent further deaths,” Darcy says.
This video is a year old but more relevant than ever. More people in B.C. have been killed by an unsafe drug supply in 2020 than through homicide, motor vehicles, suicides & #COVID19 combined. This crisis can't continue. Join us in calling for safe supply. #EndOverdose #IOAD2020 pic.twitter.com/aUTOFtuihA
— City of Vancouver (@CityofVancouver) August 31, 2020
“Since January, 909 lives have been lost to an illegal drug supply that is more toxic than it has ever been in British Columbia. The unintended consequences of COVID-19 measures have been particularly hard on people who use drugs. Many are facing isolation and loneliness, disconnection from usual in-person supports, financial strain and mental-health challenges – all contributing to unprecedented levels of stress and pain,” she adds.
Prior to COVID-19, the number of overdose deaths in B.C. was down for the first time since 2012.
“Our combined, evidence-based efforts were making a difference. More than 6,000 deaths were averted according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. That can and must happen again,” Darcy said.
She thanked those trained to administer naloxone, along with all those who work to reduce overdoses and save lives.
“International Overdose Awareness Day is a day to remember that the overdose crisis touches each one of us. It is a day when we say loudly and clearly that addiction is not a moral failing. It is a health issue that should be treated like any other health issue – with consideration, caring, and respect.”
Today, in every corner of the world, is International Overdose Awareness Day.
This year has been harder than most.
We have lost so many loved ones.
— International Overdose Awareness Day (@OverdoseDay) August 31, 2020
In Vancouver, the city is reminding people that COVID-19 isn’t the only ongoing health crisis.
“We are seeing record numbers of deaths due to poisoned drug supply, not just in our city, but across the province,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart says. “This is a crisis. Today is an important day to remember the loved ones that have been lost, to work together to combat stigma around drug use, and to make safe supply a reliable part of our health care response.”
The city remains a strong advocate for establishing an accessible, safe supply of drugs to minimize the risk created by the toxic drug supply that is contaminated by fentanyl, carfentanil, and benzodiazepines.
The city is asking residents to support elected provincial and federal representatives to provide ways for health professionals and their associations to accelerate access to safe supply.
Meanwhile, the Overdose Prevention Society is creating an interactive temporary mural at Carnegie Community Centre, which will be up until late fall. The commemorative piece has been created by local artist Smokey D to remember those who have lost their lives to overdoses during the opioid crisis.
Residents are encouraged to add names of loved ones who have died to the mural.
“On International Overdose Awareness Day, it’s so important for family and friends to recognize those we have lost and also to remind people that we are still in the middle of a crisis situation,” says Trey Agnew, manager of the prevention society.
“We hope this memorial provides a place for people to come and remember those we have lost.”
Moms Stop the Harm, a network of families across Canada who have been impacted by fatal drug overdoses, organized a Lost ‘Soles’: Gone Too Soon — a public exhibition of shoes tied with purple ribbon that is lining the west side pedestrian walkway of the Burrard Bridge until Tuesday.
Walk, cycle or drive on Burrard Bridge today to see/feel a fraction of the grief and loss from drug overdoses & poisonings. @momsstoptheharm #EndOverdose @OverdoseDay https://t.co/iiml6tCtnb pic.twitter.com/ooPbnmtL0H
— Wendy Carr (@mmecarr) August 31, 2020
The display commemorates those who lost their lives in B.C. between May and July.
An electronic billboard at West Pender and Abbott Street also displays photograph tributes to individuals who died of overdoses. The display will be visible until Sept. 7.
A “Candlelit Vigil of Remembrance” is also scheduled to be livestreamsed Monday at 7 p.m.
Travis Lupick, a journalist and author, said the crisis in B.C. is being fuelled by fentanyl.
“The larger problem underneath fentanyl is unknown supply,” he said. “It’s the fact drug users do not know what they are putting into their bodies. They do not know when they are getting fentanyl.”
On Friday, the family of prominent Vancouver sports journalist Jason Botchford confirmed he died in April 2019 from an overdose of fentanyl and cocaine.