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Overdose Awareness Day in Cambridge aims to end stigmas

Local harm reduction groups band together for an event on Aug. 24 to remember those lost to drug poisoning and to dispel stereotypes around drug use and overdoses
Amazing Harm Reduction Peers OD Awareness 2021
ACCKWA harm reduction peers sharing an important message

Waterloo region has experienced nearly 80 overdose deaths since the beginning of the year.

In July there was an average of one death every two days. 

On Aug. 24, from noon to 2 p.m. harm reduction groups will be hosting an event to highlight resources and supports available to families who have been impacted by drug overdose and addiction, honour those who have been lost to the toxic drug supply and to break down the stigma around drug use.

Overdose Awareness Day at Dickson Park in Cambridge is being hosted by the Region of Waterloo in partnership with the the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA), Sanguen Health Center, Bereaved Families of Ontario and others to bring awareness to the rise in overdose deaths and remember those who have been lost. 

Melina Pearson is the co-chair for the harm reduction group for the Bereaved Families of Ontario and wants this event to break down the stigma and stereotypes around overdose and drug use. 

“We want to give that space for people to honour and grieve and memorialize those who have died from overdose, drug poisoning, and drug toxicity in the regions,” Pearson said.

Families who have had loved ones pass away will be able to access services and groups to help deal with grief. Organizers want to show families they are not alone and can talk about their experiences when ready. 

There is a lot of shame and guilt around overdose death, said Pearson. Through connecting with others who have a shared experience they hope to start removing the cultural blocks that keep people from talking about what they are going through. 

This shame and judgment in the community could potentially make those suffering from a substance disorder less likely to access harm reduction services.
“We have this image of what it is,” said Pearson. “If I'm only called an addict and seen as an addict or a junkie, how can I go into recovery because that's all people ever see of me?” 

Whether someone is suffering from a substance disorder or just a one-time user, overdoses can happen to anyone. There is no discrimination of age, gender, race or amount used; anyone can fall victim, Pearson said. 

The new Consumption and Treatment Services site soon to be launched at 150 Main St. has been a highly contested project for some in Cambridge. It will give users a safe place to test and consume substances to help prevent overdoses. 

Groups like ACCKWA and the harm reduction group think this is an opportunity to save the lives of people who truly need help. 

The fear from the community is understood by outreach workers and events like the one on Aug. 24 will be used as a tool to educate and try to replace fear with understanding. 

“We want the community to come out so we can explain it, we can show you, we can teach you, we can tell you everything,” Pearson said. “If you have questions, come and speak to all these organizations who can answer your questions.”

At a time like this where the opioid crisis is raging on and affecting communities all over the world, the community needs to come together and help each other, she said. 

There have been over 200 opioid related deaths in Waterloo region since the start of the pandemic.

Despite the high number, it doesn't "begin to quantify the grief and loss many have experienced due to drug poisoning," reads a statement from the region about Wednesday's event in Cambridge. "The urgency to avoid similar preventable deaths in 2022 and beyond cannot be overstated.”

Pearson notes that this is a person first issue; behind every number and statistic is a human being, someone who has died. 

“Every person who has died has a family or friends impacted by it. It hurts and it's painful. It's even more painful when you can't share or talk about it, because it is stigmatized by the community or by labels,” she added. 

Wednesday's event will also be an opportunity for people to check out some of the different tools and resources that are available to support families, friends and anyone who needs it as they embark on their journey through grief. 

This will be a time to not be alone and be with people who just get it, Pearson said. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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