Advocates organize marches for International Overdose Awareness Day

Marches were held in Edmonton and Calgary Tuesday as advocates try to educate people on how many drug overdoses happen daily in Alberta and how they can be prevented.

Four Albertans die every day from a drug overdose, according to Petra Schulz, with Moms Stop The Harm and Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy. In the first five months of 2021, 624 Albertans died due to an overdose, up 41 per cent from the same time period in 2020.

“This year of COVID, of people being isolated, of the drug supply getting toxic and at the same time having a government that takes away everything that helps has made things so much worse,” said Schulz.

The group Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy is calling on the province to reverse recent changes to harm reduction services.

In a statement from the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Mike Ellis, he said the government is “committed to a full recovery-oriented system of care that helps Albertans live a healthy life.”

“Alberta’s government is making a variety of addiction services available,” Ellis added. “From fully funded treatment spaces to opioid agonist therapy to overdose prevention services, help is here throughout a person’s addiction and into recovery.”

Naloxone kits, which can be used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid poisoning or overdose, can be obtained at more than 2,000 locations across Alberta, according to Ellis.

“It’s good to offer treatment and recovery, but first we have to keep people alive,” said Schulz.

“The drug supply is toxic, so if we give people who use substances… pharmaceutical alternatives, not only do you make sure they stay healthy and they don’t die, we would also make sure they get connected to health services.

“It’s people from all walks of life, doing different things… nobody is immune.”

Moms Stop The Harm, along with the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society, recently filed a lawsuit against the province over recent changes to supervised consumption sites.

In addition to the march, Moms Stop The Harm and Edmonton Healing Hearts Peer Bereavement Support Group hosted another event Tuesday evening.

“It’s really nice to be around people who understand, because often our death is often stigmatized differently than other deaths,” said Rebecca Rummery, with Moms Stop The Harm. “People always ask how your loved one died and as soon as you say drugs were involved, people’s reactions change.”

The event included naloxone training and a candlelight vigil overlooking the High Level Bridge, which was changed to purple, the color of International Overdose Awareness Day.