Sault Ste. Marie drug strategy group marks International Overdose Awareness Day

The Sault Ste. Marie & Area Drug Strategy is bringing awareness to drug addiction and working to eliminate the stigma surrounding it.

On International Overdose Awareness Day on Tuesday, agencies gathered in Clergue Park to commemorate those who have lost their lives in an ongoing opioid crisis that officials said continues to grip the Algoma region.

Families and friends of overdose victims hung pictures or drawings of loved ones from a tree in Clergue Park. Cami Coutu, coordinator of the Sault Ste. Marie & Area Drug Strategy, said these types of gatherings are important in addressing the overdose crisis.

"It's definitely a complicated problem," said Coutu. "What we're doing is opening our arms to anybody in the community and asking for opinions and suggestions. We believe that the more heads that are together, the better that we can come up with some solutions for some people."

Algoma Public Health was also on hand to help educate those in attendance about overdose and harm reduction.

"We do a little bit of training on recognizing an opioid overdose," said Allison McFarlane, a public health nurse with Algoma Public Health. "What to do if someone is overdosing, how to administer naloxone, the importance of calling 911 because naloxone is not a permanent fix for an overdose. It's just a temporary fix until emergency services arrives."

Among those attending the gathering at Clergue Park was Susan Celetti, who lost her son Jason to an overdose in 2011.

"I walked 11 years with my son addicted to OxyContin," said Celetti. "I had no idea what to do, I didn't know where to go. And right now we have a resource page where we have phone numbers where you can get help and you can at least talk to people and say 'I don't know what to do.'"

Celetti said as overdose deaths continue, it's important to put a human face on the crisis.

"I think coming together and talking as our community, we can be a united front to do what we can to show love in our city to people who are addicted and that they are human beings," she said.

Local health officials said northern Ontario has the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the country, with the death rate tripling between 2019 and 2020.