5 years into the opioid crisis, Kamloops advocates continue work to 'end the stigma' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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5 years into the opioid crisis, Kamloops advocates continue work to 'end the stigma'

To mark the fifth anniversary of the opioid crisis in B.C. 250 were put on display in Kamloops to symbolize those who have died from an overdose, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
April 14, 2021 - 2:03 PM

Empty pairs of shoes tagged with a message to their former owner were laid out in Kamloops today, representing 250 people who were stopped in their tracks due to fatal drug overdoses in the city since 2016.

The socially distanced "Lost Souls" event today, April 14, took place on a path between Pioneer Park and Riverside Park in an effort to reduce stigma against illicit drug users. Other events were held today across B.C. on the fifth anniversary of the provincial state of emergency declared due to the opioid crisis. 

Some attendees shared stories and laughed, others mourned loved ones who have died of overdose. All were there to support each other and bring a message to the community that the opioid epidemic is still a crisis.

READ MORE: How a Kamloops chemistry major found himself on the frontlines of the opioid crisis

Sandra Tully with Moms Stop the Harm spearheaded the event.

Tully's son Ryan died of a fentanyl overdose in 2016 and people in B.C. were still trying to figure out how to pronounce the name of the drug at that time, she said.

"He was the funniest guy, sometimes inappropriately," Tully remembered, laughing. "But he took half a pill and it had fentanyl in it. He died almost immediately at 22."

After five years, she's still a grieving mother, and says she will always be, but she's also angry she has to continue her advocacy.

"It pisses me off that I have to do this because people are still dying. I'm angry that I lost a child, and 218 other families did too," she said.

READ MORE: Former health officials, advocates reflect on anniversary of overdose emergency

Although hosting public events are difficult amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Tully said this was important because the fifth anniversary of the state of emergency only comes once.

"When they first declared the state of emergency in 2016, I thought there wouldn't be a change, and unfortunately we are now worse off than we were in 2016." Tully said.

A record 1,716 people died in relation to an illicit drug overdose in B.C. last year.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the opioid crisis in B.C. 250 were put on display in Kamloops to symbolize those who have died from an overdose, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
To mark the fifth anniversary of the opioid crisis in B.C. 250 were put on display in Kamloops to symbolize those who have died from an overdose, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

Mick Sandy, a Thompson Rivers University student and youth outreach worker at Axis Family Services helped put the event together. He's seen firsthand the effects of the opioid crisis on people in even the smaller communities in the province while he was a paramedic in Lillooet and Enderby.

"It's people from all walks of life. It's the 22-year-old student or it's the 40-year-old lawyer," he said. "(Addiction) doesn't care who you are."

He commended some government efforts, but said even with the supports that are available, stigma against users makes obtaining those services difficult.

READ MORE: Kelowna frontline worker juggles own mental health, pandemic restrictions and overdose crisis

"We need to stop expecting people to jump through all these hoops to get services," he said. "There's an estimated 77,000 opioid users in B.C., but only about 23,000 have some sort of safe supply prescriptions."

Although Tully is frustrated, she feels she has to continue to host events like the one today because it's part of her continued effort to change the way governments treat the drug crisis, and to create a public conversation about drug use.

"Part of this display is I want to remind people we can all evolve in our thought process and be empathetic," she said. "But we also need brave, bold government. Everybody's so worried about elections, but they should be worried about people dying in this province."


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