Above photo: Powell River International Overdose Day organizer Darlana Treloar stands beside the memorial bench and tree planted in memory of her 18-year-old son Sean who died from a fatal overdose in 2016.
Declared a public health emergency in April 2016, the death rate from overdoses across the province shows little sign of slowing. Beginning in 2012 (300 deaths), illicit drug overdose deaths have surged the last five years, hitting a record 1,400+ in 2017, and are on track to surpass that figure again in 2018 after a shocking 134 overdose deaths in BC in July. Powell River residents changing the discussion.
Breaking through the stigma and shadow of silence is what Powell River's Overdose Awareness Panel (OAP) is tackling in hopes of changing the public discussion. International Overdose Day on August 31 is a community-wide opportunity to discuss the issue and learn more about the causes, prevention and people affected by this “quiet killer."
The city's OAP was founded by resident Darlana Treloar, who lost her 18-year-old son Sean to an overdose in May 2016. The group has been preparing for their second International Overdose Day after successfully organizing the community's first event last year.
The event is designed to focus on friends and families of fatal overdose victims, allowing them to take time to reflect on those who've been lost in a supportive, non-judgmental atmosphere with their friends, family and neighbours.
This year's event features a march from City Hall to Willingdon Beach, where Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) staff and volunteers will have set up a memorial table, an information booth and offer training in how to administer Naloxone.
The Powell River Harm Reduction Team sees the event as an integral way of connecting with potential clients and community members who may not be familiar with their program and want more information about how to be part of the solution to the crisis. It's also a way for the team to be a positive voice for evidence-based change and hope in the community.
“We are committed to collaborating with our community and honoured to be asked to participate in this important event," says Jessica Leavens, a Powell River Harm Reduction support worker. “We hope that our presence will promote health and harm reduction practices, reduce stigma, raise awareness, provide resources and information and save lives through Naloxone training."
As a region, the communities in Vancouver Coastal Health have the highest rate of fatal overdoses with 37 deaths per 100,000 individuals (compared to the provincial average of 31 deaths per 100,000 individuals). Of the almost 700 overdose deaths since January 2017, fentanyl was detected in more than three quarters of the cases, with the majority of people affected being males between the ages of 19 to 39 years old.
But many harm reduction staff say the deadly nature of overdoses isn't confined to one gender, race or socio-economic category, and the impacts of the overdose crisis are significant and include death, injury, grief and loss for peers, families, and friends, need for mental health support, impact on first responders and law enforcement and more.
To help equip staff and families struggling to support each other or prevent a fatal overdose of their loved one, VCH has prepared a wide range of resources, making them available on the VCH web site.
Read more about International Overdose Day on their website.
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