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Saskatchewan joins Moms Stop The Harm to end stigma behind drug overdoses

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan joins Moms Stop The Harm to end stigma behind drug overdoses' Saskatchewan joins Moms Stop The Harm to end stigma behind drug overdoses
WATCH: A somber day on the grounds of the legislature as families and advocates remember those lost to the overdose crisis in Saskatchewan. – Sep 1, 2021

Marie Agioritis and Jenny Churchill both lost their sons to a drug overdose and are now part of the fight to end the stigma surrounding it.

The two Saskatchewan residents are part of Moms Stop The Harm who “advocate to end substance use related stigma, harms and death,” outlined on its website. Agioritis lost her son Kelly in 2015. Churchill lost her son Jordan in 2018.

“His life mattered. He was somebody’s someone,” Churchill said.

“They’re human first and it’s a disease … if we look at other diseases, we don’t look and say ‘oh, bad you, you have cancer.’”

Read more: Regina pharmacist raising overdose awareness

Agioritis said it all starts with awareness which is why the Saskatchewan government recognizes Aug. 31, as International Overdose Awareness Day.

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“We need to talk about it at home, we need to educate ourselves, we need to better understand it because I don’t want mothers to have to live through what I live through,” Agioritis said.

“It’s a sentence and we have to do better than we have in the past.”

The province has joined Moms Stop the Harm to launch an anti-stigma campaign.

Read more: New Saskatchewan overdose numbers show old pattern

“The loss of any life to an overdose, or suspected overdose, is a tragedy and has an impact on families, friends, and communities as a whole,” said Everett Hindley, Saskatchewan’s mental health and addictions minister.

“We express our deepest sympathies to those who have lost a loved one as a result of overdose.”

Agioritis, who is also Moms Stop The Harm’s regional director, says it’s not only regular drug users dying from overdoses.

“The greatest misconception about overdose is who is dying.  We assume our family is exempt from the tragedy of an overdose.  In reality, it is the weekend user who is dying.  The young man in the trades.  The nurse next door.  Your sister’s son.  This is who is dying,” Agioritis said.

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Click to play video: 'New Saskatchewan overdose numbers show old pattern' New Saskatchewan overdose numbers show old pattern
New Saskatchewan overdose numbers show old pattern – Aug 9, 2021

“We need to talk openly about it.  We need to stay safe and understand what we can do to prevent overdose deaths.  Educate yourself.  It could save a life.”

Advertisements for the anti-stigma campaign are running on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Connected TV and YouTube along with radio, print and billboards.

On top the campaign, the Ministry of Health will be launching a new website www.saskatchewan.ca/overdose that will offer more information and resources around drug use and overdoses.

Read more: Prairie Harm Reduction raises more than $180,000, will expand hours

“Our government is committed to providing a continuum of addictions services that focus on prevention, awareness, harm reduction, education and treatment,” Hindley said.

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“This includes targeted interventions for opioids and crystal meth use.  While awareness is one key pillar of action, our government is also committed to implement initiatives that prevent overdose, save lives and expand treatment bed capacity in our province.”

Despite the government’s efforts, Saskatchewan NDP official opposition critic for mental health Doyle Vermette says more needs to be done.

“Over the last five years the amount of deaths confirmed by the Saskatchewan Coroners Service to be due to overdose has risen from 91 in 2015 to 281 in 2020. This number is expected to rise yet again for 2021. This is unacceptable and more must be done to protect Saskatchewan people and families,” Vermette said.

Click to play video: 'Volunteers build 1,600 crosses to mark overdose deaths in Saskatchewan' Volunteers build 1,600 crosses to mark overdose deaths in Saskatchewan
Volunteers build 1,600 crosses to mark overdose deaths in Saskatchewan – Aug 22, 2021

“Safe-consumption sites are needed and should not have to rely on community fundraisers to provide services. Naloxone kits should be readily accessible across the province. Organizations who save lives should know they have sustainable, predictable funding to do their work.

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“The provincial government needs to do the right thing and immediately commit to support our community partners to reduce harm, and to save more lives. It is the very least they could commit to today.”

The province reminds people to call 911 in the event of an overdose and that under the Good Samaritan Act, people cannot be charged for possession of an illegal substance if the call is in regards to somebody overdosing.

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