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Victoria crowd rallies for action on overdose crisis

Protestors call for new policies, safe supply and decriminalization

Glen and Jan Mahoney pose with an image of their son Michael, who died of an overdose in December after struggling with opioid addiction since age 13. The couple joined protestors Tuesday as they marched from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health building downtown as part of the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Glen Mahoney wants to know how many people have to die from overdoses before something changes.

He and his wife Jan joined dozens of people raising a rally cry in downtown Victoria on Tuesday as they called for action on the overdose crisis.

Glen and Jan’s son, Michael, was prescribed opioids for pain at just 13-years-old. He spent the rest of his short life battling an addiction to the substance until he died of an overdose less than five months ago. He was 21 years old.

In their grief, the Victoria couple say something must change.

“Doing the same thing over and over that doesn’t work, it’s the definition of insanity,” said Jan. “I’ve been an advocate for safe supply for many years. It’s just ridiculous how we’ve criminalized people because… humans have been using substances for a millennium, so I don’t think prohibition is the answer.”

Glen said stigma is the only explanation for the ongoing crisis.

“These people are ill. And they go untreated,” he said.

The protesters, which included members of the Society of Living Illicit Drug Users (SOLID), Aids Vancouver Island (AVI), Moms Stop the Harm as well as other advocates and harm reduction workers, marched from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health building at 1515 Blanshard Street, calling for safe supply, compassionate policy change and decriminalization of single-use drugs.

“Safe supply can be done,” said Victoria-based harm reduction nurse Marilou Gagnon, in an address to the crowd. “It is cost effective…it saves lives.”

The crowd responded with hoots of support, banging pots and blowing whistles.

“We know what to do, we have the solution,” she added, saying that governments have managed public health emergencies without knowing the cause or the cure.

“We can take matters into our own hands.”

According to the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD), safe supply refers to legal and regulated drugs that perform as a substitute for illicit drugs – helping to re-conceptualize safe use practices and ensure users don’t ingest contaminants like fentanyl.

A safer drug supply motion brought forward by the City of Victoria was approved at an AVICC meeting on Saturday, but Coun. Sarah Potts said the overdose crisis needs to become a federal election issue too.

“I want to call on governments to do more and do better,” she said to the crowd.

Coun. Laurel Collins, Coun. Sharmarke Dubow, Coun. Marianne Alto and Coun. Jeremy Loveday joined the group as well.

Tuesday’s march was part of a National Day of Action put on by CAPUD that comes with five federal demands: to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency, to make safe supply the fifth pillar of the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, to make heroin an accessible drug, to decriminalize people who use drugs and to provide emergency funding for overdose prevention sites.

Across B.C., similar events were held in Powell River, Prince George, Duncan and Vancouver.