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Overdose awareness: Today and everyday


A lit purple candle. The symbol of IOAD

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) has been a recognized event for over 20 years. It originated in Melbourne, Australia and has become a regularly acknowledged event on August 31 in countries all over the world.

Here in BC, we live in one of the only provinces/regions where overdose death rates have been openly declared a public health emergency. That happened on April 14, 2016 - over seven years ago - and we have been watching the numbers climb ever since.

IOAD began long before BC faced our state of public health emergency. The devastation that families and friends face when they lose a loved one to an overdose was significant enough to create an annual event to recognize the heartache and suffering that comes from these preventable losses. Here we are, 22 years later with illicit drug toxicity being the leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-59 in our province. That circle of grief and pain from each unique loss is felt by countless BC families.

For many of us who have lived within the community of substance users, days and events meant to bring greater awareness and honor those we have lost have come with an added burden. Multiple times I have learned of the death of someone I truly cherish, stolen from us, and before I feel I can even grieve and properly mourn the life of someone beloved to many, I am facing another unique loss. I am not alone in this. I hear the same heart-wrenching truth from so many people in our community. We can’t even grieve our loved ones - there is never enough time.

For many of us, days like IOAD come with a sense of desperation. It can feel as though you are pleading with the world around you to see us; to see our lives and our families and understand that we have value. We fight through stigma and misinformation that creates an even more toxic situation for us, and every year I hold hope in my heart that people will see why we gather, why we wear purple, why we drum and pray. We are extending our hands out in good faith that families will no longer have to grieve in silence and that the loss of thousands upon thousands of innocent British Columbians will not be in vain. This crisis is larger than us - our community needs the support of allies.

I ask that people consider taking action to mark IOAD: Learn to use Naloxone, get a kit to carry, and learn more about current, evidence-based harm reduction practices; help to correct misinformation about substance use and users, learn about the drug user group(s) in your region and beyond and support them in any way you can.

I hope that one day IOAD is a monument to our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, our partners, our friends and all of those we have lost to the toxic unregulated drug supply. I hope that we celebrate it to recognize the good fight that we put our whole hearts into to end this public health crisis that is destroying the lives of countless loved ones and robbing our world of beautiful, valued individuals who deserved better.

I offer sincere and heartfelt gratitude to everyone who marks IOAD alongside our community of People Who Use(d) Substances (PWUS) and our families. Thank you. It means so much to many of us knowing that more and more individuals are standing up to call for change!

Together, I believe we can create a safer world for PWUS and those we love.