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It’s time to remember and time to act to prevent overdoses

International Overdose Awareness Day is a time to remember people who have lost their lives to drug overdose and hold space for their friends and families. It’s a time to listen to people with lived and living experience of substance use.
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This year’s International Overdose Awareness Day event comes at a time when illicit drug toxicity deaths have increased and surpassed historic highs.

International Overdose Awareness Day occurs annually on August 31 and is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, reflect and remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of family and friends. 

The theme is “Time to Remember. Time to Act.” With this in mind, BCCDC is highlighting the voices of those who have been most impacted by the public health emergency and sharing information to encourage action.

Five Priorities of People with Lived and Living Experience of Substance Use

The members of PEEP, a committee of professional consultants with past or present substance use experience from throughout B.C., have issued a statement for International Overdose Awareness Day. The statement identifies five priorities for future work on policies related to drug use and harm reduction. The priorities were developed at a recent meeting with people with lived and living experience of substance use representing communities from around BC. They say these priorities would help achieve a framework that respects the political and social rights of people who use drugs and accommodates the needs of people who use drugs.

Naloxone is not enough: Letters from the Heart of the Crisis

Twelve letters written by people with lived or living experience of drug use offer perspectives into the ongoing overdose emergency. The letters about the B.C.’s Take Home Naloxone program were written by members of PEEP and Peer2Peer, two peer-led organizations that advise BCCDC. Naloxone is a lifesaving medication that can reverse opioid overdose. The program has helped avert many deaths, however, the letters emphasize that overdoses are preventable and naloxone is not enough. 

Illicit drug toxicity deaths have increased and surpassed historic highs 

Since the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency in March 2020, the rate of overdose events and illicit drug toxicity deaths have increased and surpassed historic highs. In 2020, 1,724 people died from overdose compared to 991 people in 2016, the year the overdose public health emergency was delcared. 

The median age of death is 44, making illicit drug toxicity deaths the second highest cause of potential years of life lost in B.C., after cancer. It is among the top three causes of death for age groups under 19, 19 to 39 and 40 to 59.

Indigenous people disproportionately impacted by overdose during COVID-19 pandemic

The number of First Nations people in BC who lost their lives due to the toxic drug supply jumped dramatically during COVID-19, according to data released in May 2021 by the First Nations Health Authority

First Nations people are dying from toxic drugs at 5.3 times the rate of other B.C. residents. First Nations individuals make up 3.3. per cent of B.C.’s population yet accounted for almost 15 per cent of toxic drug deaths in 2020. The increasingly toxic drug supply, combined with the harms of historical and present-day colonialism, are key factors in the crisis.  

To help address some of the barriers to accessing culturally safe mental health and addiction treatment, and harm reduction services, the First Nations Health Authority launched a harm reduction campaign this summer. The campaign includes a video series: Increase the Support. Reduce the Harm. The videos feature Indigenous people talking about harm reduction and the impact of toxic drugs in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Posters and other materials are also available.

Tips to make drug use safer 

  • Carry naloxone
  • Don’t use alone:
    • Use overdose prevention services
    • Buddy up and use with another person. Don’t use at the same time so there is always someone who can respond in the event of an overdose.
    • Use the lifeguard app if it is available to you
  • Test your drugs
  • Talk to your provider about OAT or pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit drugs

Resources for people who use substances and people who are likely to witness an overdose

Spotlight: Overdose Awareness Day events

See the full list of International Overdose Awareness Events

  • Quesnel: Coalition of Substance Users of the North (CSUN) IOAD Event with ceremonies, open mic, and memorial walk at Walking Bridge from 1- 4:15pm. 
  • Quesnel: CSUN BBQ with food, games, education and resources at CSUN (#3-445 Anderson Dr, across from Aroma Foods) starting at 4:30 pm. 
  • Prince George: Family friendly event with memorial crafts, food, Naloxone training, candlelight vigil, and songs. At Mr. PG from 5:30-8:30pm. Supported by The POUNDS Project, PG Community Action Team, Positive Living North, Moms Stop The Harm PG, and Hospice Hearts.

  • Victoria: A Walk for J: Steps to Awareness Memorial Walk, 4.5km ocean side walk starts at Beacon Hill Park sign on Dallas Road at 7am
  • Nanaimo: Community connection, harm reduction education and Naloxone training, speakers and story sharing (1pm), meet and greet with local service providers and organizations. Maffeo Sutton Park, 12-6pm, hosted by Nanaimo Community Action Team.
  • Campbell River: Raise awareness of the effects of the drug poisoning crisis and honour lives lost with education and resources from community partners, Naloxone training, and community art-making. In Spirit Square from 11am-3pm with the Campbell River Community Action Team. 
  • Cranbrook: Community Connection Event with art exhibit, memorial for those lost, community resources, Naloxone training, and drug checking. In the parking lot of Community Connections Society of Southwest BC building from 12-4pm, organized by EKNPUD and ANKORS
  • Oliver: Moms Stop The Harm South Okanagan Pancake Brunch with free haircuts and counselling, family friendly activities, and Naloxone training. 6060 Station St from 10am-3pm.
  • Nelson: Nelson Fentanyl Task Force and partners organized a vigil to commemorate those lost to the overdose crisis. Harm reduction information and Naloxone will also be available. 1-3pm in Cottonwood Falls Park.
  • Kamloops: Come together to connect and remember through music, art, poetry, education, Naloxone, food, vigil, and more. McDonald Park, 5-7pm with Addition Matters Kamloops.
  • Kelowna: Music, Naloxone training, drug checking demo, and candlelight vigil in Kerry Park, 7-10pm.
  • Castlegar: Free BBQ, harm reduction supplies, education, and Naloxone training. At the former Flamingo Motel parking lot (1660 Columbia Ave) from 11am-4pm with the Castlegar and District Community Services Society. 
  • Vancouver: The Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War holding a series of events including a protest march, block party and live stream, starting at 10am.
  • Vancouver: InterUrban Art Gallery is showcasing DTES artists
    in an exhibit called "Not Just An Art Show: The OD Crisis on
    Canvas". Free, running Aug 31 to Sept 3 from 2-6 pm
  • Vancouver: Métis Nation BC handing out harm reduction supplies and giveaway bags at Pigeon Park in the Downtonw Eastside from 2-4pm
  • Powell River: March from City Hall to Willingdon Beach (Upper Lot) where there will be pizza and refreshments, Naloxone training, memorial table, and candlelight vigil. March starts at 5:30pm, organized by Moms Stop The Harm with Powell River Community Action Team and SUSTAIN Powell River.
  • Abbotsford: Music, speakers, naloxone training and take-home kits at Jubilee Park from 11am-3pm with Cedar Outreach Society
  • Coquitlam: Art and Awareness Event at Spirit Square – Glen Pine Pavilion from 11am-2:30pm, organized by TriCities Community Action Team
  • Surrey: Métis Nation BC handing out harm reduction supplies and giveaway bags at Gateway Tower/Tower Station from 9:30-11:30am
  • Langley: Awareness walk from Derek Doubleday Arboretum to Douglas Park Spirit Square, where there will be a BBQ, naloxone training and community resources, speakers, and candlelight vigil. The walk starts at 6pm, events at Douglas Park start at 6:30pm. Organized by Langley Community Overdose Response and We All Play a ROLE.
  • Mission: Flower Power Art Show. Community art displayed with music, resources and community connection, Naloxone training, and a memorial vigil at 6:30pm. 4-7pm on 1st Avenue, organized by Mission Overdose Community Action Team.
  • Abbotsford: March from Jubilee Park to the Trinity Memorial United Church for a BBQ, music, and speakers to raise awareness and honour lives lost to the overdose crisis. From 3-7pm, organized by Abbotsford Drug War Survivors
  • #ENDOVERDOSE Virtual Event featuring frontline leaders of the overdose crisis. Register on Eventbrite. 8:30-10:30am on August 31st. Organized by Overdose Response Community Action Teams in BC.

  • Moms Stop The Harm virtual Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance at 6:30pm. The event will feature songs and words of remembrance and is hosted at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific in Victoria, B.C.




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