Black balloons could be seen around the city on Thursday to mark the sixth anniversary of British Columbia’s declaration of an opioid crisis.
Members of the public gathered at the Mental Health and Addiction Center (MHSU) in downtown Vernon, where bundles of black balloons were attached to the building. The balloons would soon be distributed to the crowd for an awareness march from the clinic to Polson Park and back.
Interior Health launched an awareness campaign that saw black balloons displayed in communities across the region on April 14. Businesses and residents were also invited to participate.
Since April 14, 2016, nearly 1,500 people have died from overdoses in the Interior Health Region. This number climbs to more than 9,000 across the province.
Vernon Councilor Kelly Fehr was among those present at the march. Fehr, who works at Turning Point Collaborative Society, spoke about his own struggle with alcoholismand has been a strong advocate for harm reduction.
“Things haven’t slowed down,” Fehr said, looking back on the past six years. “We have seen more and more deaths each year, and today is an opportunity for members of the community to come together and honor the loved ones they have lost to support each other and raise awareness.
“I hope events like this start to break down the stigma so that people who live with substance abuse issues feel comfortable talking about it, because the majority of people who die die at home,” he said. he added.
Fehr said he’s pleased with the province’s recent announcements about increased harm reduction services and thinks new substance abuse supports for youth will be particularly helpful. Locally, in March, the province announced it will add four new mental health and addiction services to the Vernon area, while hiring 19 full-time support workers.
Rhea Evans attended the march after serving the homeless population of Vernon as a support worker for Upper Room Mission. She said her time in the role brought her closer to a lot of people.
“Since then, many of those people have died,” she said. “It’s something that has affected me personally and professionally and every day like this I want to be here to support.”
Cheryl Jackson works on the front lines of the toxic drug crisis as a peer support worker for the Cammy LaFleur Street Clinic and MHSU. She helped organize Thursday’s black ball march and she has some ideas for reducing the number of overdoses locally.
“What we really need here in Vernon is a 24-hour mobile unit that provides service,” she said. This is an idea that has been taken up in other cities, as Terrace in 2019.
As part of Interior Health’s black balloon campaign, the public is encouraged to start a conversation about substance use with friends and family, or learn how to use non-stigmatizing language on substance use.
If you see a potential overdose, call 911, noting that the Good Samaritan Act can protect people from drug possession charges if they experience an overdose or call 911 after witnessing one.
British Columbia Opioid Overdose Crisis