Drug Poisoning Awareness event to take place in Cranbrook on the day

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Aug. 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day, when people from all walks of life across the world unite to honour and remember those lost to illicit and toxic drug deaths. A total of 438 events across the globe have been registered on the official International Overdose Awareness Day website based out of Australia. Of those, 83 events will be held across Canada this year, with 33 in B.C.

Through July, there have been 1,095 deaths in B.C. related to illicit drugs, overdoses, and toxic drug poisoning, such as fentanyl. International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) was first initiated in 2001 by Sally J. Finn of The Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia. It has become a worldwide event to show support and raise awareness. IOAD adopted purple and silver as the colours to show support and spread awareness. Purple is shared with other causes, including stopping animal abuse, and domestic violence, along with awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and lupus to name a few. People across the world, from large cities to small communities, will don purple to show their support on Aug. 31 in either the form of a ribbon, clothing, or both.

AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach Society (ANKORS) and the East Kootenay Network of People Who Use Drugs (EKNPUD) will be hosting their third annual Drug Poisoning Awareness Day event in Cranbrook, at Street Angels, located at 46 17 Ave. S. There will be a noon protest walk from ANKORS, at 1324 St. N., to city hall. This is their third protest walk to date. The Drug Poisoning Awareness event will follow the march and last until 7 p.m. This year’s event will have an Indigenous focus, with drummers, dancing, and other cultural activities. There will also be drug checking and naloxone training on site, with the day ending with a vigil to remember all those who have fallen to the growing overdose crisis. The pandemic impacted attendance last year, but organizers expect a larger turnout in 2022.

“It’s heartbreaking when we put effort in and there are small turnouts, but we also understand that stigma is insidious and bears its evil head in many ways — and poor turnout to events like IOAD are a result of the stigma associated with this topic,” said EKNPUD project co-ordinator Jessica Lamb. “We at EKNPUD exist to serve people who use drugs. We stand with, walk beside and are people who use drugs. We are a by-us, for -us organization.”

EKNPUD started in the East Kootenays in 2020 and is funded through the OERC. The organization hosts weekly drug user meetings in Cranbrook and does a considerable amount of outreach in the community.

“We are a grassroots drug user group supporting the most marginalized and stigmatized members of our community,” Lamb said. “We decided to get involved with IODAD because we were sick and tired of watching our community members die and no one caring.”

According to the First Nations Health Authority, First Nations people have been dying from overdose-related causes at 5.6 times the rate of other B.C. residents. In 2019, First Nations women were more susceptible, at 8.7 times the rate of other B.C women. From January to May 2020, First Nations overdose deaths doubled. In April 2016, the provincial government declared the opioid overdose crisis to be a public health emergency. Since then, the overdose crisis has claimed more 10,000 lives in B.C.

“We are in the midst of a six-year-long public health emergency with no end in sight. Things seem to only be getting worse,” Lamb said. “Because of the stigma associated with substance use and people who use substances, often we do not hear about the immense loss our province and communities are suffering. Our event is focused on residency, unity, and solidarity. We want to honour those we have lost, but also celebrate the survivors and all those who are working the front lines or supporting people who use substances. I hope that people walk away with a sense of hope. I hope people learn more about why people use substances and the impacts of the toxic drug supply. A safe supply will save lives, but we need the government to act. As a drug user and harm-reduction advocate, we will continue fighting for the rights and lives of people who use drugs and advocate for evidence-based policies and practices.”

ANKORS is always looking for volunteers and donations. A specific list of needs can be found on the ANKORS Facebook page and at eknpud.org, where there is information on how to get more involved.