Thousands of British Columbians have lost their lives due to suspected overdoses since January of this year.
With the death toll reaching record numbers throughout the province, advocates say this year’s International Overdose Awareness Day is even more important.
“It’s a day we take to remember all the lives lost to drug harm and it was called Overdose Awareness Day, but this crisis has really changed in that it’s actually drug poisoning because of the toxic drugs out there,” said Helen Jennens with Moms Stop the Harm.
Between January and June of 2022, 1,100 people died from illicit drugs, according to the BC Coroner Service.
Jennens lost her two sons to overdoses in 2011 and 2016, she says this trend will continue unless the government takes concrete action.
“We don’t want to lose any more kids, we do not want families to suffer the way our families have so it’s all about raising this awareness and starting these conversations,” said Jennens.
“We’d also like to put some pressure on our governments – 10,000 people have died since the province declared a state of emergency in 2016 and that’s just unacceptable.”
Jennens went on to say that policies need to change.
“We need a safe supply to stop the deaths, a safe regulated supply just like we did with alcohol,” said Jennens. “That’s what we’re really pushing for. The more people are talking about it, the closer we make it to the solutions.”
Penticton and Area Overdose Prevention co-founder, Desiree Surowski, echoed that safe supply is an important next step.
“We’ve been advocating it for years and years and years, however, the government is really hesitant to actually put through a full-service safe supply,” said Surowski.
According to Surowski, in Penticton, 11 people have died due to an overdose since the beginning of the year. In 2021, 27 people died in Penticton.
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“It’s baffling to me that six years ago they declared this an emergency and yet the toll is increasing, not reducing,” said Surowski. “They’re obviously not doing their job properly and implementing the strategies they need to implement. If you were doing your job that badly in any other capacity, you wouldn’t have your job anymore.”
Meanwhile, organizations in Kelowna and Penticton have planned events to mark this year’s International Overdose Awareness Day.
In Penticton, dozens of organizations will be set up in Gyro Park until 9 p.m. Wednesday night.
“We’re a small community and sometimes we get pushed back for these progressive initiatives. Just come down and learn and ask questions and have conversations and just try to embrace the work that so many agencies in this community are trying to do,” said Surowski.
“We’re going to have Mandy Cole doing an acoustic set and then we’re having a rock band six play some classic rock, and then we’re going to have some acoustic and violin music to do our luminary display.”
Penticton’s event also includes a kid zone here, grief support, a smudging tent, information, and naloxone training.
In Kelowna, Moms Stop the Harm in partnership with Interior Health will host an event in Kerry Park at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“The most important thing about today is that we can grieve those who have lost our lives through overdoses and the toxic truck supply,” said Living Positive Resource Centre executive director Fahmy Baharuddin.
“It’s also a chance for the community members to recognize that the day exists to then learn about why overdoses happen, learn ways to stop overdoses from happening and getting in touch with the community members to find out resources that exist within your communities.”
Organizers at Kelowna’s event have planned for naloxone training, drug testing, complimentary coffee, and tea. The event will also have live music and a candlelight vigil will conclude the event.