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Black balloons to honour Okanagan residents who died of overdose

FILE. The overdose crisis is continuing to kill drug users at an unprecedented rate. Dan Couch / Global News

Black balloons will be displayed in communities across B.C.’s southern Interior on April 14 to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the overdose crisis being declared a public emergency.

This acknowledgment, in which Interior Health hopes private businesses will also take part, is for all who have died and reflects international Black Balloon Day. which took place on March 6.

Click to play video: 'Penticton groups to recognize six-years since overdose public health emergency declaration' Penticton groups to recognize six-years since overdose public health emergency declaration
Penticton groups to recognize six-years since overdose public health emergency declaration – Mar 28, 2022

“Interior Health continues to expand harm reduction measures and invest in mental health and substance use services,” Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown said in a news release.

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Read more: ‘We are literally seeing people die before our eyes’: Toxic drugs continue to take toll on Okanagan

“We know the steps taken over the last six years, such as distribution of Take Home Naloxone kits, the introduction of drug-checking services, opening new supervised consumption services and expanding substance use treatment, have saved countless lives.

“Unfortunately, the crisis continues in the face of an increasingly unpredictable, poisonous drug supply. We never lose sight of the lives lost and continue to work hard to expand access to harm reduction and treatment.”

Across Interior Health, mental health and substance use services have been expanding alongside increasing overdose prevention services.

New youth substance use services including inpatient treatment, counselling, intensive case management and withdrawal management beds have been added recently, along with record investments in adult substance use services.

Read more: Annual H.O.P.E. Outreach gala raises funds for growing need in Okanagan

For Thursday, April 14, Interior Health encourages people to display black balloons at their businesses or homes.  They’re also asking that people take the pledge to avoid stigmatizing language around substance use, carry a naloxone kit and learn how to use it and start a conversation. Whether you are a parent, friend, or colleague, talking about overdose prevention and substance use is a crucial step.

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Kelowna members of Moms Stop The Harm and Interior Health, supported by Starbucks are also holding a black balloon event today, April 14,  to recognize the six years since the declaration of a public health emergency.

THe organization will also be at Starbucks locations around along with Interior Health peer workers to talk to the public about opioids and safe supply.

Figures released from the BC Coroner’s Service show that from January until the end of February this year, there were 382 overdose deaths in the province and, of these, 30 were in the Okanagan.

Broken down further, the coroner’s service said 13 deaths were in Kelowna and eight were in Penticton. If nothing changes, both cities, like the province in general, are on track for the deadliest year of the toxic drug crisis.

Click to play video: 'Number of overdose deaths continue to grow in the Okanagan' Number of overdose deaths continue to grow in the Okanagan
Number of overdose deaths continue to grow in the Okanagan – Apr 12, 2022

Interior Health announced Tuesday that it is introducing new outpatient withdrawal management services in four communities and a new virtual option to make accessing care easier across the region.

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“When people with substance use challenges make the courageous decision to reach out for help, there need to be services to meet them where they are at,” Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions, said in a press release.

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. Call 310-MHSU or visit interiorhealth.ca to learn more.

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