Sooke resident Melanie Cunningham and retired mental health and substance use counsellor Ben Goerner are advocates for Moms Stop the Harm, one of several organizations involved in an International Overdose Awareness Day event at Ed Macgregor Park on Aug. 31.

Sooke resident Melanie Cunningham and retired mental health and substance use counsellor Ben Goerner are advocates for Moms Stop the Harm, one of several organizations involved in an International Overdose Awareness Day event at Ed Macgregor Park on Aug. 31.

Moms search for ways to stop the harm

International Overdose Awareness Day event on Aug. 31

The poison that’s peddled as street drugs continues to extinguish more lives in communities across the country with each passing day.

Melanie Cunningham, a long-time resident of Sooke, has dealt with the devastation caused by addiction in ways you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

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“I got involved with Moms Stop the Harm when fentanyl poisoning first started making news,” she said. “Having a 39-year-old son who’s struggling with addiction issues and the increasing number of deaths became a major concern, especially after seeing him lose so many friends.

“At least four mothers I know have lost their adult sons or daughters to fentanyl poisoning,” said Cunningham, who also lost her 20-year-old son to a drug-induced suicide many years ago.

“I’m hoping that my son, who’s struggling with addiction, will be able to turn his life around and return to us. I want to support families that are going through the same thing.”

Knowing some of the other mothers who have dealt with overdoses in the community was also a powerful motivation for her decision to get involved with Moms Stop the Harm, Cunningham said.

Ben Goerner joined Moms Stop the Harm in 2017 due to his experiences as a clinician working with people struggling with opiate use and other issues. He said that the organization’s principles on how society deals with substance use and addiction aligned with his.

“I found that we were on the same page in advocating for policy changes,” said Goerner, who spent 36 years as a mental health and substance use counsellor, the last 14 working with Interior Health in the Okanagan.

He vividly remembers Jan. 6, 2016, because that’s the day the son of a family he was working with died of fentanyl poisoning.

“Fifty of the clients I worked with have died of fentanyl poisoning since that day and when I retired in November 2019,” noted Goerner, who moved to Sooke in June. “And I know there’s been many more since.

“The key message is we need an accessible, safe drug supply for everyone, not just the silent few. That’s why we’re advocating for the decriminalization of all substances. The end goal of all of that is to reduce the tide of deaths and eliminate the stigma attached to substance use. We need to ensure what people take is safe for consumption, much like we do with alcohol and marijuana, so people know what’s in what they’re taking.”

Goerner and Cunningham are dedicated to ensuring that an event they are helping organize will help drive that message home in their home community of Sooke.

Moms Stop the Harm is one of several organizations involved in hosting International Overdose Awareness Day, which starts at 6 p.m. on Aug. 31 at Ed Macgregor Park.

“The event is meant to honour those we’ve lost through a candlelight vigil, provide information, raise awareness of the issue, and support those who need it,” Goerner explained.

This will mark the first time the event is held in Sooke and will include a proclamation by Mayor Maja Tait that joins Sooke with communities across the country in acknowledging International Overdose Awareness Day.

There will be Naloxone training, representatives from the T’Sou-ke Nation, Safe Shelter Society, Island Health, the Sooke Family Resource Centre, refreshments, music, and information booths on harm reduction and services available for those in need.



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