Over a year ago, Angela Vos met Lori St. Amant and the two quickly discovered they shared a sad, tragic bond: Both their sons had died from overdoses just one day apart, on June 1 and June 2, respectively.
Through the grieving process, both Vos and St. Amant joined Moms Stop The Harm -- a network of Canadian families impacted by substance-use related harms and deaths -- and worked to advocate for proclamations from the four municipalities of Midland, Penetanguishene, and the townships of Tay and Tiny to recognize August 31 as International Overdose Awareness Day.
This year, their goal was achieved.
“Today means a lot of sadness, but a lot of heartfelt moments of gratitude for the fact that the townships have accepted the proclamation that we have so tirelessly written letters and requested for the last year,” Vos told MidlandToday Tuesday.
International Overdose Awareness Day began roughly twenty years ago as a discussion in Australia between a needle and syringe program manager and a community and health development program coordinator. They wanted to turn drug overdose conversations into a non-threatening, information-based opportunity. The interest shown grew to international levels, and in 2012 a movement had developed.
“For us it’s a moment of celebration because we do recognize that prevention isn’t going to stop the problem, but we are going to make people aware that it is a problem,” said Vos.
On the front steps of Midland’s town hall, having just been to Penetanguishene, Vos and St. Amant set up a memorial quilt and other reminders for their sons Jordan Vos, who was 26 when he died, and Jason Bourgeois, 43.
Both mothers wore purple shirts as per the theme colour, with St. Amant handing out purple awareness ribbons to the attendees.
St. Amant spoke to the gathered crowd beside a photo of her son.
“Angela and I are here to bring awareness to the new crisis, to the new pandemic we have now by losing our loved ones daily to overdose,” said St. Amant.
Both women reiterated the core message of Moms Stop The Harm.
“We advocate to change the failed drug policies, and to provide peer support to grieving families and those with loved ones, who used or who have suffered substance abuse disorder,” announced Vos.
“Our mission is to end substance-related stigma, harms and deaths for our loved ones. Our vision calls for the end of the failed war on drugs through evidence-based prevention, treatment and policy change. We support a harms reduction approach that is both compassionate and non-discriminatory for people who use substances.
"Together we can make a difference,” Vos said.
Mayor Stewart Strathearn followed the speeches by saying a few words about his efforts in conjunction with local OPP detachment commander Inspector Joe Evans.
“We had a conversation about drugs and the issues that persist in the town of Midland,” Strathearn began, “and agreed that through the OPP we would put a blitz on trying to remove illicit drugs from the municipality. But at the same time, we were engaging on what is known as the Community Safety and Well-Being (CSWB) planning exercise through the four municipalities of North Simcoe."
Strathearn continued, relating that substance misuse and mental health were recognized as environmental factors where a person could intersect with the criminal justice system. He stated that with Evans help the municipalities would look to put in preventative measures through the CSWB to affect change, “so we’re not standing here hearing stories of people’s losses.”
Additionally, Strathearn said Midland would look into putting pressure on senior levels of government to change some policies around the availability of banned and illicit substances.
“I think that we need to look at how we shelter these folks,” Strathearn said after the speeches.
“If we look at the Community Index of Well-Being from the University of Waterloo, there are about eight factors. And a study done here recently showed that isolation and food security are two things that we can do to relieve pressure on the very groups that are subject to this gathering today.”
Both Evans and Strathearn took the time to speak one-on-one with Vos and St. Amant.
“At the end of the day, our job as police officers is to stop this,” Evans said. “One death is too many. We have to do everything we can to stop the drugs and the opioids coming into our communities, and prevent the sadness and ill effects of that."
Evans’ tone was equal parts compassion and vigilanance.
“With the illicit drugs, we have to do everything that we can to prevent this (overdoses) from continuing,” Evans admitted. “It’s essential that we do our job as police officers; it’s essential that the communities help us do our jobs, so that we can prevent any more loss of life.”
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca