Those lost to the overdose crisis in Prince George were remembered as the city marked International Overdose Awareness Day at Veterans Plaza.
The event, organized by Moms Stop the Harm, was an opportunity to break the stigma and see organizations and service providers come together to raise awareness and provide harm reduction education.
“This is happening to everyone’s sons, daughters, and you know your next-door neighbour,” said Corrine Woods, a member of Moms Stop the Harm who lost her 22-year-old son Tony to an overdose in 2018.
Woods said there needs to be a safer supply and longer hours for harm reduction and mental health services because people use substances every day of the week.
“They can't get the help when they seek it, and they die before they can get there. It doesn’t matter if you are a 16-year-old child trying drugs for the first time you don’t get a second chance.”
Niki Hanson has lived experience with drug use and also lost her 26-year-old daughter Courtney to an overdose.
“For me, it's a health issue,” said Hanson. “We need to treat people who have mental health and substance use disorders the same way as we treat any other kind of health situation.”
She said people with addiction need wraparound support depending on what stage of usage they are in.
“But now we're dealing with this poisonous lethal supply that is not even giving people a chance to live,” said Hanson. “I truly believe that my daughter Courtney used what she knew would make her feel okay, which would help her regulate herself, so she could put one foot in front of the other.”
Hanson added that while she was given many second chances, her daughter was not.
“Dead people don’t recover," she added.
Woods noted that when her son was struggling with substance use in 2016 and 2017 she did all of the “shaming, blaming, and punishing” which ended up pushing her son away.
More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of the lives lost in 2022 in B.C. were male and many of them were using alone behind closed doors.
“Moms Stop the Harm has been a real educational part for me, because they're teaching the moms how to let their children be who they are, if they use substances to do it in a safe way so that they stay alive until they find, potentially, a healthier path that is substance-free, and maybe not,” said Woods.
“Maybe they will continue to use substances, but they're going to do it with harm reduction measures, they're going to do it where they stay safe.”
After a land acknowledgment by Lheidli T’enneh Elder Violet Bozoki, Michelle Miller, who lost her son 25-year-old son Tanner, addressed the crowd.
“I want to share with you how very sad I am for my son Tanner, all the parents who I've met on this grief journey, who are here today and the 10,000 kids lost to the toxic drug supply and overdose in B.C.,” said Miller.
“We need help in our community so we can deliver care needed in a non-judgmental, non-stigmatizing way. I want everyone to think of the six kids who will die next month, and their families affected in Prince George from the toxic drug supply and failed policy. These deaths are preventable.”
Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia and is second only to cancer in terms of years of life lost.
According to the B.C. Coroners service between January and June of this year, 35 lives have been lost in Prince George.
“It is imperative that we urgently provide access to safer supply across our province. It's only when we drastically reduce people's reliance on the profit-driven, illicit drug trade, that we will save lives and turn the trajectory of this crisis around,” said B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe, in an August news release.
“This day is an invitation to talk about the impact of drug overdose death, and to reduce stigma by creating opportunities for inclusion and providing access to education,” said Acting Mayor Susan Scott before officially proclaiming Aug. 31 as International Overdose Awareness Day in the city.
“Most importantly, today is an opportunity to remember the lives lost to overdose and to hold space in solidarity with the grief of their loved ones. Today, I want to recognize the impact overdose has had on those of you who have lost children, family members and friends to this terrible epidemic.”
The event will conclude with a candlelight vigil held from 7:30 to 9 p.m.