A local man is working to raise awareness about drug overdoses, is establishing a memorial bench and hosting an annual event for people to remember those they’ve lost.
Trevor Wheel said he began learning about overdoses after his son and two friends suffered from accidental opioid overdoses in 2019. One of the boys lost his life in the incident.
“I didn’t know a lot about overdose before that and as time went by I found that a lot of people don’t want to believe in it, just want to sweep it under the rug, say it can’t happen to them,” said Wheel. “I don’t want it to be swept under the rug. I want people to realize that it’s a problem and it can happen to anybody.”
He added he wanted to particularly emphasize the point that it can happen to anyone, regardless of their situation.
“It doesn’t have to be somebody battling with addiction,” said Wheel. “It can be a bunch of teenagers who were looking to experiment. It can be a toddler who finds their parent’s edibles or medicine cabinet.”
The awareness vigil that Wheel hosted on Aug. 31 for International Overdose Awareness Day was the third such that he has put together.
The event has been steadily generating more local awareness since its inception, with more people showing up to each subsequent event.
“If I can make one person think twice about taking that drug or make one person think twice when they see somebody laying on the sidewalk having an overdose to give them some Naloxone to help save their life, that’s what I’m looking for,” said Wheel.
Wheel began his fundraiser for the memorial bench last year and noted it would be permanently established in Kinsmen Park before the end of 2021.
“It’s a really good feeling knowing that through all of this, I’m putting something forward that the community is going to see on an everyday basis and… remember those (who) we have lost,” he said. “I will be out every Aug. 31 of every year to promote [overdose awareness], to keep remembering people who we have lost.”
People were invited to light a candle for someone they had lost, mark the sidewalk, wear a purple ribbon and to write a message that Wheel intends to print as a decal for his vehicle.
The most recent opioid poisoning data made available by the province of Alberta from April to June 2020 shows 449 people had died from accidental overdoses during the first six months of 2020.
This averaged to 2.5 individuals fatally overdosing every day during the indicated time period.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times