It’s sure to be an emotional day and a poignant display of the real-life grief caused by B.C.’s ongoing overdose epidemic.
Activists are organizing a virtual vigil in Penticton, B.C., on Wednesday evening to mark five years since B.C. declared a public health emergency due to rising overdose deaths in the province.
To comply with COVID-19 safety protocols, 10 people will speak during the virtual vigil at 6 p.m., but others are encouraged to send in video messages sharing their stories.
The public is also welcomed to “paint the Gyro Bandshell purple” throughout the day on April 14 by bringing printed images or messages for loved ones lost to a drug overdose.
The theme colour is purple in alignment with international overdose awareness colours.
“We really wanted to honour all those who have lost their lives unnecessarily to overdose, and also to do a call to action. In five years, the death toll is rising, not shrinking, and our government isn’t doing enough to prevent these deaths,” said Desiree Franz, founder of the Penticton and Area Overdose Prevention Society, which is one of the organizers of the event.
February marked the 11th month in a row that over 100 people died from a suspected illicit drug overdose in British Columbia.
The figure was an increase of 107 per cent over February 2020, and just shy of the record 165 deaths reported in January.
“This data emphasizes the alarming increase in the toxicity of the illicit drug supply throughout B.C.,” B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a press release.
“Across the province, the risk of serious harm or death is very real for anyone using a substance purchased from the illicit market. Decisive action is urgently needed to ensure an accessible, regulated safe supply and to provide people with the supervised consumption, treatment and recovery services they need.”
Franz agrees more decisive action is needed in B.C. to reduce the record-shattering death tolls.
“Penticton per capita, has one of the highest rates of overdose in B.C. for such a small municipality,” she said.
“I think part of it has to do with the toxic drug supply because of COVID-19 and the borders being closed, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have policies in place that make it really challenging to assist people with substance use disorder.”
Sixty-two people died of a suspected drug overdose in Kelowna, B.C., in 2020, up from 34 deaths in 2019.
Twenty-six people died in Vernon, B.C., last year, up from 14 deaths recorded in 2019. Penticton data is not provided in the BC Coroners Service reports.
Across the Interior Health region, 283 overdose deaths occurred in 2020, up from 138 the year prior. It was the deadliest year in the B.C. interior for illicit drug toxicity deaths in at least a decade.
For more information about Penticton’s virtual vigil, visit the event’s Facebook page.