International Overdose Awareness Day remembers those lost to crisis

·4 min read

Alberta Alliance Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly, AAWEAR, held an event in Galt Gardens Wednesday for International Overdose Awareness Day, uniting to try to bring an end to the overdose crisis and remembering those who have lost someone with support and education on the topic.

“We are here to remember, without stigma, those who have died and acknowledge the families who have gone through grief and loss. We’re calling for an end to the punitive drug laws that have cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives in the fight,” said Heidi Reinke, outreach coordinator for the Lethbridge chapter of AAWEAR. “Lives have been lost or ruined by people being convicted and incarcerated for drug related offences. Overturning these laws, and adding increased attention for people charged with drug related offences and expunging the records of people convicted of minor offences would be a step towards justice.”

The afternoon event worked towards bringing attention to harm reduction and removing the stigma about how it can help save lives.

“It’s important to bring the education to the awareness, especially in Lethbridge. There are so many people that we find don’t understand the importance of harm reduction. They believe abstinence is the only way and that is not always the case for so many folks. Getting more education out for the public here in Lethbridge is huge,” said Reinke. “There are ways to use safely if you have a safe supply. But the unfortunate circumstance is because these drugs are not regulated, they can be cut with anything, which can cause fatalities. People get what they get and the majority of most drug poisonings that we have come across have been unintentional, not intentional.”

AAWEAR handed out harm reduction supplies, teaching about Narcan and Naloxone utilization, medication that is used as an “opioid antagonist” to counter the effects of opioid overdose.

“Anyone that wants to learn will get tutorials, explaining about how it works,” said Reinke. “With the Narcan, it is a nasal spray, we find it’s the most effective way. It’s a lot less invasive to the person. Just spraying it up the nose and after 20 minutes you can do another dose if need be. By that time EMS is able to arrive. With the Naloxone kit, there are three needles, three vials, and every 20 minutes you can administer one shot to the thigh, arm, or any big muscles of the body.”

Alberta RCMP also recognized the day with a statement saying they will be launching a methamphetamine awareness campaign in collaboration with the Canadian integrated Response to Organized Crime, while educating, protecting, and informing the public about negative impacts of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.

The RCMP noted that in 2021 Alberta lost over 800 lives to meth-related accidental overdoses, increasing by 28 per cent since 2020.

“The past two years have been the deadliest on record. Last year, on average five people were taken from their family and community every day. It is devastating to think of how many Albertans have been plunged into grief over this time,” said Lori Sigurdson, NDP critic for Mental Health and Addictions, in a statement. “These deaths were preventable. Drug use should not be a death sentence. By denying evidence-based services, backed by science, the UCP have failed Albertans. We can encourage treatment and recovery while also preventing further deaths through well respected public health models. There is no reason the government should be contributing to suffering by refusing to expand life-saving treatment options and harm reduction pathways. This does not have to be ideological, nor political – we must only act to best serve those who are in crisis.”

Sigurdson added Alberta needs a drug poisoning response rooted towards saving lives, not passing moral judgement. She proposed an Emergency Action Plan to save lives including an urgent expansion of supervised consumption services and safe and regulated alternatives to illegal and toxic street drugs.

“We are happy for anyone in the community that comes out and supports us. We’re always looking for more folks to join our team as well, doing outreach and giving back to the community. We are a peer led organization. We all come from some sort of addiction, and are really understanding of the folks on the street,” said Reinke.

For more information on AAWEAR you can visit them at aawear.org.

Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald