The 4th annual recognition day in the city looks a bit different this year due to COVID-19, but officials in the city thought the day still needed to be honoured. (Alana Pickrell/CTV News)

In an effort to raise awareness and end stigma, several organizations in North Bay came together Monday to recognize International Overdose Awareness Day.

"It's a global epidemic," said Meagan Deutekom, Hepatitis C community coordinator with AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area. "It's not just affecting our community or our country, but it's affecting countries, and communities and people everywhere."

The day started in 2001 in Australia and has been recognized in North Bay for the past three years, said Brooke Bertrand, a registered psychotherapist with the addictions team at the Community Counselling Centre of Nipissing.

"The purpose of the day is to bring awareness to the problem of overdose that people are injured or dying of overdoses related to substances every day in our community," Bertrand said.

"And it's also to talk about reducing the stigma, talking about harm reduction strategies and the way that we can help treat substance abuse problems in our community and really to remember, especially those families who have been impacted by overdose or have lost loved ones because of overdose."

Went virtual this year

She said in the past few years, attendance has been growing in the city. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual event went virtual this year to help keep large crowds down.

"We're like the little engine that could," Bertrand said. "We started out quite small and last year we had a great turnout from the community, and so we were really hoping to build on that momentum this year and have even more people join us face to face."

Bertrand said several people have signed up for the virtual events.

"Last count that I was aware of we were up to 20-30 people, depending on the event itself," she said. "Virtually of course is making it a bit harder for us to reach people, but last year we had about 100 people from the community."

Even though Aug. 31 had to be honoured in a different way this year, organizers said it was important to keep going.

"It means a lot of me," said Hepatitis C outreach coordinator, Glenn Petersen. "I come down to these gardens on a regular bases and help maintain them. But I've watched a lot of friends over the years, too, and specifically lately, we've lost a lot of our clients and a lot of people that I've gotten to know in this town since I've been here, and there's a lot of people dying who shouldn't be dying."

There were 19 deaths in last year

Petersen said the issue in the city isn't what he would consider as high.

"I'd say we're probably average," he said. "It's really bad everywhere, it's simple as that. There's thousands of people dying a year, needlessly."

Bertrand said there have been 19 deaths in the district in the last year.

"It's not a high number in our district, but it is 19 people who are no longer with us and 19 families and loved ones who are impacted by that loss," she said.

The main goal for this day every year is to help raise awareness and end the stigma.

"Stigma only disconnects us further and pushes people away," said Deutekom. "So the goal of today is to raise that awareness and encourage our community to support the campaign and to just show some more compassion to people."

"We know that overdose impacts all races, all socioeconomic status, all ages, it does not discriminate," Bertrand added.

Online events are happening throughout the week including Naloxone training on Thursday. Those interested in last minute sign up can email harmreductionpillarcdsnb@outlook.com

"It is overdose awareness day," said Petersen. "It's not only for people that have passed."