Relatives mourn overdose victims as concerns grow over opioid crisis

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TORONTO – As Canadians across the country mourn overdose victims, experts and their families are warning of a significant increase in opioid-related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Protests were held as part of International Overdose Awareness Day, which aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma surrounding overdose-related deaths around the world.

In Canada alone, federal statistics show 15,393 people died of apparent drug overdoses between 2016 and 2019, with about a third of those deaths occurring in British Columbia.

Moms Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian families affected by drug addiction and overdose, organized to have overdose victim footwear collections on display along the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver and in Victoria Park in Vancouver. Edmonton to mark the day and give people a sense of the reach of the crisis.

“(It’s) a visual display of all those people who will never cross the Burrard Street Bridge again,” Deb Bailey, an organizer for the group, told CTV News Vancouver on Sunday.

“It could help inform people of how many people (we) are losing,”

Relatives of overdose victims in Toronto – where apparent overdose deaths reached record levels in July – raised a flag at City Hall to mark awareness day.

“Roger had an addictive illness and he couldn’t fend for himself. He died of a fentanyl overdose, ”Irene Patterson, who lost her son Roger to an overdose, told CTV News.

Similar protests also took place in North Bay, Ontario. and Guelph, Ont., where participants called for an end to the stigma surrounding illicit drug use, which can lead people to hide it and avoid treatment.

Ontario Provincial Police said on Monday there had been an 81% increase in suspected overdose deaths in the jurisdiction of the Ontario Provincial Police since 2017 – the year policing began to carry naloxone, a medicine used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose.

While the numbers are already staggering, the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have caused an increase in overdose deaths at a time when the opioid crisis was starting to come under control.

The British Columbia coroner reported that in July 175 people had died of suspected drug overdoses in the province, an increase of more than 100 from the previous year. July was the third month in a row with more than 170 suspected overdose deaths in the province.

In April, Dr. Daniel Kalla, chief of emergency medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, told CTVNews.ca he believed COVID-19 restrictions at the height of the pandemic could lead to a spike in overdoses.

He mentioned that resources were limited to make room for pandemic measures and that people were choosing to adhere to physical distancing guidelines and injecting themselves instead of going to a secure injection site.

Others believe that border closures have disrupted the supply routes of illicit drugs, leading people to use more dangerous substances.

“We are really concerned that the market for toxic and unregulated drugs is getting worse,” said Adrienne Crowder, director of the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy.

Some relatives of overdose victims argue that – given the state of the pandemic – more attention should be paid to the opioid crisis.

“We have more people dying from overdoses in many provinces than from COVID-19,” said Petra Schulz, one of the directors of Moms Stop the Harm.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in July urging him to decriminalize the possession of illicit drugs for personal use.

A month later, the federal government announced that it had asked federal prosecutors to find alternatives to the court system for most drug offenses and to prosecute only the most serious drug possession offenses.

With files from CTV News Vancouver and CTV News London

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