'It's a solemn day': Penticton community gathers to mark the sixth year of overdose crisis in BC

Sixth anniversary 'solemn'

Casey Richardson

It’s a grim anniversary on Thursday in Penticton, as non-profit organizations and members of the public gather to mark the six years since BC declared a public health emergency due to the overdose crisis.

Interior Health, OneSky Community Resources, ASK Wellness Society, Moms Stop the Harm, Okanagan Nation Alliance, Fill the Food Gap Penticton and the Penticton overdose prevention society all came together to collaborate on the event .

First, a walk will begin at 11 a.m. at Unit 117-437 Martin Street MHSU downtown with black balloons.

A gathering followed in the Elks Club parking lot at noon, which will continue until 4 p.m.

Amy MacDonald, a licensed practical nurse and fourier transform infrared (FTIR) drug-checking technician at ASK Wellness Society was in attendance to advertise the drug checking service.

“It's a solemn day, but it's also a day to come together and to learn more about your community and the impacts of the opiate crisis on your community,” she shared.

Over 9,400 people in the province have died of an overdose from toxic illicit drugs since the government’s declaration.

“It was hard. It was really emotional to see the number of overdose deaths in the community. But then to see the amount of people that have come out today already. It's just really humbling and it's going to be an emotional day for sure.”

Speakers from Moms Stop the Harm, naloxone training, drug checking, a memorial for those lost and information regarding local resources are all available at the event.

One man who is a peer support worker and an advocate for Moms Stop the Harm shared his frustrations on the day.

“Really what's most important is the number of deaths that have happened in 2021. The most ever since the beginning when it was declared a state of emergency. And there's been no response from our provincial or federal government except 10 to 20 beds a year,” Chris Weber said.

As someone who has worked in peer support in the Valley since 2017, Weber shared that he has personally attended over 1500 overdoses.

“I could work 24/7 because basically every 23 hours we have a death, because of a poisoned drug system, and a non conducive medical system that doesn't support the person that has past-lived trauma, childhood trauma and generational trauma. There's absolutely nothing in place other than pharmaceuticals to try to help these people.”

MacDonald hopes that the event reduces stigma around substance use and increases awareness.

“It affects more than just one population, it does not discriminate. And this is a way to really spread that knowledge and awareness about addiction and about overdose deaths,” she said.

“The reality is that an overdose can occur with any type of drug that you use. Our supply of drugs is very toxic and very unpredictable.”

Drug testing remains an open resource, which more information can be found on drugchecking.ca or on the Ask Wellness website.

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