Winnipeg advocates band together with politicians, police to raise awareness of overdose deaths

Overdose Awareness Manitoba members with prominent politicians and emergency service personnel ahead of Overdose Awareness Month. Submitted/Abby Matheson

The dead can’t recover from addictions, a Winnipeg addictions advocate said Sunday.

That’s part of why a likeminded group of advocates — families whose loved ones died from overdoses in Winnipeg — have banded together with politicians, police and emergency service personnel to spread their message ahead of Overdose Awareness Month this August. 

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane and NDP Leader Wab Kinew joined a group of about 20 advocates from Overdose Awareness Manitoba and Moms Stop the Harm to hold white crosses on the banks of the Red River in a photoshoot earlier this week.

The photo is part of a national campaign aimed at signaling support for harm-reduction measures to prevent overdose deaths.

“We’re united in the community, we’re standing there with the police chief, with the fire chief, with the leader of the opposition. I think it’s just showing that as a community we can come together and make those changes,” said Rebecca Rummery, Overdose Awareness Manitoba’s cofounder and a member of Moms Stop the Harm.

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Those changes include increased access to harm reduction, addiction treatment and safe consumption, Rummery said in a phone interview.

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The group invited Smyth after the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, of which he’s a member, called for the decriminalization of the possession of drugs for personal use in early July.

“We felt like it was important for him to be there,” Rummery said.

While the group will launch its full campaign this Friday — including the posting of photos of those who have died of overdoses in Winnipeg along with purple ribbons, a tradition started in August 2018 — it will also advocate for systemic change to the addictions treatment system in the province.

“It’s just part of lessening those substance-related harms to people and keeping people alive, so when they are ready and able to go find recovery or go to treatment, those options are there for them. That’s why harm reduction is so important,” Rummery said.

“Where other provinces have safe consumption sites, we don’t. A lot of people (think) they enable people, they don’t. They’re there to keep people alive.”

Notably missing from the photo is Brian Pallister, Manitoba’s premier.

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“He just hasn’t been very supportive of the things we were doing, he hasn’t met with families… Many of us have reached out to him and it just hasn’t happened,” Rummery said.

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