A handful of people holding black balloons in the shape of stars walked around downtown Maple Ridge Monday afternoon to honour those who lost their lives in the community to the ongoing opioid crisis.
Thirty six balloons were divided up for the nine participants in the walk on March 6, including one in a stroller, in memory of the 36 lives lost in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows last year.
According to the BC Coroners Service that number is down from 48 in 2021 and 41 in 2020.
The walk was put on by the Maple Ridge Community Action Team and STORM, Stop Overdose Ridge Meadows, and is the first organized walk in the community since the inaugural Black Balloon Day in 2016.
”I think there is so many people in this community whose lives have been impacted by the toxic drug supply,” noted one of the organizers, Jerrica Hackett, project coordinator with the Community Action Team.
Hackett said that even as she was picking up the black balloons for the event, an employee at the store shared with her that they had just lost a young worker just recently to toxic drugs.
“She was nearly in tears as I was purchasing the balloons,” she said.
Jesse Sokol, peer coordinator at the Maple Ridge Community Action Table with STORM, noted that Moms Stop the Harm started the campaign in 2016.
“I feel this really helps the Maple Ridge community as far as getting that word out there and reducing the stigma,” he said.
As of January, 2023, there have been 211 “suspected” illicit drug deaths across B.C. according to new data released by the provincial coroners service on Tuesday, March 7. A two per cent decrease from deaths recorded in January last year which was 216. But a two per cent increase over the amount of deaths in December last year, which was 207.
The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in January is equal to about 6.8 deaths per day across the province, with 69 per cent of those between 30-59-years-old, and 77 per cent were male – according to the report.
Townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2023 so far are Vancouver, Surrey, and Greater Victoria.
And, the report also states that only two deaths have occurred at an overdose prevention site – one in 2022 and one in 2023 – noting there is no indication that prescribed safe supply is contributing to illicit drug deaths.
As the group walked around Memorial Peace Park towards the Greg Moore Youth Centre, a young boy asked if he could have a balloon. While being handed a balloon, Sokol explained to the boy’s father what the balloons represented and the father told the group to keep up the good work.
According to Overdose Lifeline, an American non-profit that helps people affected by addiction and substance use disorders through support, advocacy and education, Black Balloon Day was started in the United States by Diane and Lauren Hurley in memory of their family member, Greg Tremblay, a father of four, who died of an overdose at the age of 38 on March 6, 2015.
In America, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death, the agency goes on to say, adding that more Americans are likely to die of an opioid overdose than they are from a car accident or by gun.
STORM peed education coordinator, Jenn Owen, said the day is important to commemorate because the community needs to know what the toxic drug supply looks like and what addiction in and of itself looks like.
“It’s important to us that people start to understand it for the disease that it is as opposed to the stigma that has been put on it and the distaste that comes along with people’s thoughts around it,” she said, adding that awareness is the goal.
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