Members of the advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm took to the streets Friday evening, holding a vigil outside the Vancouver Art Gallery and carrying makeshift coffins in memory of loved ones they've lost to fatal drug overdoses.
The rally was part of a push to call for more action on B.C's toxic drug crisis, leading up to International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.
"We're all here for the same reason," said Traci Letts, an organizer with Moms Stop the Harm. "To remember ... to speak their names. These types of deaths there's just no dignity in them."
"We just want to change the narrative," Letts, whose son struggles with drug addiction, said. "We need to talk about substance use, drug use. We need to make it part of our everyday conversation to reduce the stigma."
Number of fatal drug overdoses per year in B.C.
According to the B.C. Coroners Service, over 140 people died from illicit drug toxicity across the province in the month of June. Preliminary data shows the number of overdose deaths in the first six months of 2022 is the highest ever recorded for that period of a calendar year.
Moms Stop the Harm want B.C. and Ottawa to overhaul provincial and federal drug policies and apply harm reduction principles on a much wider scale. Some of those changes include increasing access to needle exchanges, safe supply, Naloxone kits, drug testing and supervised consumption sites.
According to the group's website, harm reduction aims to keep people alive and as healthy as possible, connects people with social and health services or treatment, encourages self-respect and meets drug users where they're at — without stigma or shame.
Lisa Weih was at Friday's demonstration. Two years ago, her 29-year-old daughter Renée died after consuming toxic drugs.
"It's a terrible kind of loss, to lose a child — and for her sibling to lose her," Weih said. "It leaves a hole ... in your heart and in your life."
Renée had struggled with substance use for several years and Weih says the family didn't know how to help her then. Today, she's grateful for the support of other members of Moms Stop the Harm, but is also adamant that things have to change.
In an article she wrote about her daughter's death, Weih questions why laws against harming and killing others are not applied in the same way when people are harmed and killed by poisoned drugs.
"This kind of death is particularly painful because there's no kind of justice for the family," she said. "You feel quite bereft."
"Nobody's investigating, nobody's trying to solve or resolve or figure out what happened. These kinds of deaths are largely overlooked."
With over 10,000 deaths in B.C. since a public health emergency was declared in 2016, organizers and participants at Friday's rally say they'll continue to take to the streets and raise their voices until there's a shift in how the government handles the overlapping issues of substance use, addiction and drug toxicity.