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Photo shoot honours overdose victims as Piikani Nation sees spike in substance-related deaths

Families of overdose victims gather at Piikani Nation for memorial as reserve’s death toll spikes
WATCH ABOVE: Moms Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian families who have lost loved ones to substance abuse, held a memorial photo shoot on the Piikani Nation Sunday. As Eloise Therien reports, the reserve is dealing with a spike in overdose deaths amid COVID-19.

Canadian organization Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH) partnered with the Piikani Nation in southern Alberta to hold a memorial photoshoot on Sunday.

“The purpose of this shoot, first of all, is to honour our loved ones who have been lost to the overdose crisis,” MSTH member Kym Porter said. “Secondly, to change the stigma associated with substance use.”

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Individuals and families gathered on the Piikani Nation, holding photographs of loved-ones lost to substance abuse for their part in a series of nation-wide photography projects.

Jodi Verbosch, Piikani member and lead for MSTH, says overdose deaths have spiked in recent weeks.

“In the past five weeks, we’ve had six overdose deaths take place here on the nation,” she said. “There are a lot of families living in complete devastation because of the loss of life that has occurred here.”

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Verbosch says the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t making the situation any easier, both on and off the nation.

“Rehab centres being far more difficult to get into if, indeed, they haven’t already been closed,” he said. “Access to mental health has been a challenge, people can’t meet in person with their counselors.”

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Verbosch is encouraging the public to equip themselves with naloxone kits, containing a medication that block the effects of opioids and could stop an overdose.

Byrdie Loyer, who held a photo of her niece, says more needs to be done on the reserve to support those struggling, especially the younger population.

“Pictures like this should be put up all around our community, to remind people of what’s really going on,” she said.