Sask. parents, loved ones honour those who died from overdoses on awareness day

·4 min read
Photos of those who died from overdoses were displayed at an honouring event in Regina. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC News - image credit)
Photos of those who died from overdoses were displayed at an honouring event in Regina. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC News - image credit)

Purple ribbons were worn and take-home naloxone kits were handed out across Saskatchewan today for international overdose awareness day.

In Regina, a prevention and honouring event at the mâmawêyatitân centre was filled with drumming, dancing and prayers. Elder Deanna Keewhein from Starblanket First Nation said an opening prayer at the event today.

"It's important for me to be here today [because] as Elders, we live a long life and we have a lot to share," Keewhein said.

Her brother died from an overdose a year ago.

Richard Agecoutay/CBC News
Richard Agecoutay/CBC News

"It's hard to cry, you just have to give it time," she said. "He'll always be in my heart, him and I, we were very close"

"That's why I'm here today."

Keewhein said she can identify with other people who have lost a loved one to overdoses.

"You have to be there to know what it's really like to go through all of this grieving."

Keewhein believes people might do drugs to try and cope with traumatic events from their pasts and childhoods, such as violence and sexual abuse.

"They use drugs to forget," she said. "They use drugs perhaps to be accepted, to feel calm, to feel at peace, but somehow down the road it gets away on them."

She said drug use that turns into addiction means some people require the drug everyday to "feel normal."

The number of drug toxicity deaths in Saskatchewan has climbed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, there were 327 confirmed or suspected drug toxicity deaths in 2020, and 412 confirmed or suspected drug toxicity deaths in 2021.

As of the end of July, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service recorded 263 confirmed or suspected drug toxicity deaths in the province this year.

Families experience stigma

Kelly Csada was also at the event in Regina today. She is part of a group called Moms Stop the Harm.

She lost her son, Tama, to "the harms of addiction" in January 2015.

"Our son was love and laughter," said Csada in an interview with CBC Radio's The Morning Edition. "He was a great person, a contributing member of society."

Csada said Tama left behind two sisters and two sons.

Jennifer Francis/CBC News
Jennifer Francis/CBC News

She said there was and still is a lot of stigma attached to addiction and navigating that "has been really tough."

"I think a lot of people have that attitude [of] 'well he was an addict, it was expected, he was an addict. It was bound to happen.'" Csada said.

She said Tama was always very open about his addiction.

"Addiction is a disease just like Crohn's or diabetes and that's what I think people have a hard time understanding," she said.

"I'd like people to realize that it's hard having that empty chair in your home, you know [that] when you lose a child and I'd like people to realize that."

Csada said since her son died, she has noticed more social media posts about overdose deaths are met with negative and stigmatized comments.

"So many times [when] I post about someone who's lost their life to overdose or the harms of substance use and I'll see comments and it's 'well, their parents couldn't have been there,' or 'they grew up like this,' or 'maybe if they would have had guidance or support,'" Csada said.

"Many of these [people] have all that, but addiction is a disease and it can affect anyone from all walks of life, doesn't matter who you are."

Province recognizes awareness day

The province said it is "once again" partnering with Moms Stop the Harm on a campaign to reduce the risk of overdoses in the province and the stigma related to drug overdoses.

"Overdose tragedies happen to people from all walks of life in communities throughout the province," Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Everett Hindley said in a statement.

"This day is an opportunity to remind people who use drugs, their family and friends, and the public, of the resources available to reduce the risk of an overdose or how to potentially save the life of someone who is overdosing."

The province said it's put $470 million toward mental health and addictions services for 2022 and 2023. This includes $67 million toward harm reduction, prevention, detox and treatment initiatives.

It said $3.8 million is being put toward harm reduction supports including annualized funding for community wellness buses, drug testing strips, take-home Naloxone kits and supporting 30 fixed harm reduction sites and four mobile harm reduction vans.

In March, Prairie Harm Reduction, Saskatchewan's only safe consumption site, was left out of the 2022-23 budget.

"These are significant investments, but we know there is more work that can be done to help reduce overdoses," Hindley said. "We will continue work on initiatives to ensure Saskatchewan residents are supported with treatment options."