When Darlana Treloar lost her son Sean to a fentanyl overdose in 2016, very few people were talking about the toxic drug poisoning crisis.
“I knew I had to talk about it to warn people.”
The Powell River overdose prevention site worker said the crisis has only gotten worse since her son died, but she didn’t expect the extent of its harm. Almost 1,100 people in B.C. died of toxic drug overdoses in the first half of this year, the highest number ever recorded over a six-month stretch.
“I’m really surprised our government hasn’t given us safe supply,” Treloar said, holding picture collages of Sean.
She was one of the many marking International Overdose Awareness Day (Aug. 31) at Victoria’s Centennial Square, who have mourned loved ones because of the crisis. While the group called for a number of actions, getting the government to stem deaths by providing safe drugs was their loudest call.
“If you’re not angry today about the drug poisoning crisis then you haven’t been paying attention,” Jennifer Howard, a drug policy advocate with Moms Stop the Harm, told a crowd. “The first priority must be to stop people dying, and this will include a safe supply for people who used street drugs.”
Howard, who also lost her 24-year-old son Robby to an overdose, said the province isn’t listening to users, families, advocates or even its own experts amid skyrocketing rates of death that show its actions aren’t enough.
“Our loved ones matter.”
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson on Wednesday said her government has added treatment and harm-reduction services, but the increasing toxicity of the illegal drug market has outstripped those services.
“Increasing supports and reducing stigma is a key part of our government’s work to build a comprehensive and seamless continuum of mental health and addictions care that works for everyone. It’s also why we are decriminalizing people who use drugs,” she said in a statement.
As the group marched through the middle of Victoria’s downtown streets, Terry McLean said it took her a while to believe in safe supply, but 10,000 deaths since 2016 – her daughter being one of those – is proof that simply telling people to abstain from using isn’t the answer. She added that a safe supply would make communities safer for everyone, not just users left with the illegal market as their only option.
“It’s affecting our society as a whole so something has to be done.”
The stigma surrounding drug use turning fatal is something Dave Keeler knows all too well after losing his neighbour to an overdose just two weeks ago, when he didn’t even know his friend was using.
“He didn’t want to tell me that he was going downtown to score,” said Keeler, a street ambassador with SOLID Outreach Society. “These are people’s brothers, these are people’s sisters, this could be your child. We need to stop the stigma and we need to accept people.”
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