First responders join families, friends and volunteers in Centennial Square on International Overdose Awareness Day in 2017, to honour those lives lost to opioid-related deaths.                                 Photo contributed

First responders join families, friends and volunteers in Centennial Square on International Overdose Awareness Day in 2017, to honour those lives lost to opioid-related deaths. Photo contributed

‘Stigma is on every level of our society’: Victoria to mark International Overdose Awareness Day

Centennial Square gathering Aug. 29 to remember, but more importantly, to educate

Almost 4,000 Canadians died from opioid-related deaths in 2017.

That statistic – released by the federal government in June – shows roughly 1,470 of those deaths took place in B.C. Both numbers are up from previous years and continue to climb.

Robbie Cunningham is one of the 2,978 people whose lives were cut short by an accidental opioid overdose in 2016.

He died alone, says his mother Jenny Howard, just like the 88 per cent of people who are found using what she calls a “poisoned drug supply” indoors, also often alone.

“He couldn’t share that he was struggling with heroin,” she says. “That’s got to change.”

In her healing, Howard found solace in reaching out to other families who had experienced a similar tragedy. “That’s how I found support and understanding for what he was going through.”

On Aug. 29, to align with International Overdose Awareness Day, Howard will gather with families, friends, partners and others at Centennial Square for an evening devoted to remembering those lost to the opioid crisis, but also to educate the public.

Attendees from last year’s Victoria event for International Overdose Awareness Day placed messages on origami to loved ones lost to the opioid crisis. Photo contributed

“Robbie didn’t grow up saying ‘I want to be an addict.’ That wasn’t in his life plan,” Howard explains.

The mission: to move people past the stereotypical language associated with drug use, and to reframe addiction as a medical health condition similar to any other health condition one struggles with.

“It’s going to take time,” Howard says. “Stigma is on every level of our society. It’s on a political level and that’s why we’re not seeing huge change. We see what it took to legalize marijuana. We’re pushing for decriminalization [of opioids] for a safer drug supply.”

The event, a collaboration between Moms Stop The Harm, and the South Island Community Overdose Response Network, is part of a global day to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related death.

The response to last year’s event to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day was “overwhelming” says Jenny Howard, an organizer who lost her 24-year-old son Robbie Cunningham to an opioid overdose in May, 2016. Photo contributed

A collection of community agencies will be represented as well as a storyboard project called “We Are Human” featuring the stories and images of loved ones lost. It puts a human face to the struggle, Howard says.

Attendees are encouraged to bring photos of their loved ones for a memorial table that will be created, while naloxone kits and training will be available for free.

“Youth are savvy about what’s out there,” she says. “What they’re not savvy about is how toxic the drugs are now that are on the street.”

Last year, the response to the event was “overwhelming” Howard says, adding that when it came time to call for volunteers this year, each one came with the story of how they had been personally affected by the overdose crisis.

The evening will also include a call to action and rally followed by a candlelight vigil.

“I lost my ability to fight for Robbie but I’m fighting for another mom’s child,” Howard says. “These are preventable deaths at the end of the day.”

The International Overdose Awareness Day event runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Aug. 29 at Centennial Square.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A peacock struts by a pair of lamb siblings at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, which remains closed to the public. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
VIDEO: Victoria petting zoo optimistic about future after 13 months closed

Public helps non-profit Beacon Hill Children’s Farm with nearly $100,000 influx

Island Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak in two houses at the Mount St. Mary long-term care home on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Google Earth)
Island Health declares outbreak at Victoria long-term care home

Resident, staff member test positive for COVID-19 at Mount St. Mary facility

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus is putting a 41-passenger electric bus through its paces in a three-month trial run between Nanaimo and Victoria. (Photo submitted)
Electric bus on trial run serving Victoria-to-Nanaimo route

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus trying out 41-seat electric coach for three months

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is helping Saanich police locate a suspect who allegedly stole an iPhone from a building in the 3100-block of Foul Bay Road on April 7. (Image via the Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Saanich police seek suspect in cell phone theft

White iPhone XR reported stolen from building on Foul Bay Road April 7

Victoria police are looking for a 38-year-old man after he allegedly assaulted and choked a missing 15-year-old victim in Beacon Hill Park Tuesday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
15-year-old choked in Beacon Hill tent, Victoria police assaulted while intervening

Police searching for 38-year-old suspect, two officers injured in altercation with park residents

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Most Read