Edmontonians remember their loved ones on International Overdose Awareness Day | PKBNEWS

Rhonda Pouliot called her son Chris Shea, 34, her “indoor cat”.

“Even though he was a pipe fitter, he didn’t like camping, he didn’t like being outdoors, which is the complete opposite of me, so he was my indoor cat,” Pouliot said.

Shea was hard-headed but had a very big heart, she said.

“He was a good guy in every way. A bit opinionated, a bit like his mother,” Pouliot said.

The pair spoke every day, so when one day last April he didn’t respond to her text messages, she immediately became concerned.

A memorial for Chris Shea, who died of drug poisoning in April 2022.

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Shea overdosed that day. He was taken to hospital and six days later Pouliot removed him from the resuscitation system.

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“It’s exhausting because there’s a giant hole in all of our lives,” Pouliot says.

That’s why Pouliot was at Victoria Park on Thursday, to mark the annual International Overdose Awareness Day.

“I don’t want to be here – none of us want to be here,” she said. “You feel connected with all the people here with whom you share a common experience, even if it’s a terrible experience. »

Data shows that more and more families are being affected by opioid overdoses. The province’s most recent figures show the number of opioid-related deaths so far this year has increased by more than nine per cent – 770 in the first five months of 2023, compared to 701 in the same period in 2022.

As the death toll rises, what are we doing to close the loopholes in the system?

Organizations like Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH) advocate for harm reduction strategies while the provincial government focuses on a treatment-oriented approach.

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“As families, we hope our loved ones will find wellness and recovery, but we have learned through our tragic losses that there is no recovery when you are dead,” said Petra Schultz of the MSTH.

Increasing harm reduction comes through the establishment of drug testing facilities, regulated alternatives to the toxic supply of illicit drugs, and more supervised consumption sites.

There are currently two 24/7 supervised consumption sites in Edmonton, the George Spady Center and the Royal Alexander Hospital. There are also five supervised consumption outlets at the Boyle McCauley Health Center, open approximately 60 hours per week (during prime clinic hours).

Schulz added that all levels of government must do more to address the housing crisis, “because it is impossible to get treatment and recovery when you are on the streets.”

“The Government of Alberta is supporting people suffering from the deadly disease of drug addiction in their quest for recovery through a variety of measures, including drug use sites, 11 new recovery communities and the addition of more 10,000 addiction treatment spaces across the province,” said Hunter Baril, spokesperson for the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

Even though some supervised consumption sites in Edmonton were closed after the United Conservative Party came to power in 2019, Baril says there has been no reduction in service spaces in Edmonton and the province continues to work with Boyle Street to set up a service center in the south of the city. river near Whyte Avenue.

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As for the drug supply itself, Schulz says the growing toxicity of the supply must be corrected before more people die.

“The numbers will continue to rise unless access to harm reduction is expanded and the problem of supply is solved,” she said.

A new study shows that an increased amount of fentanyl a*sociated with the combination of fentanyl and benzodiazepines in the street supply is a major factor in opioid deaths.

The study looked at cases of “benzo-doping” – a combination of fentanyl and benzodiazepines (common examples would be Xanax and Valium). Researchers found that the presence of benzos in benzodope users heightened the potency of fentanyl in the user’s system, making it more lethal.

Overall, opioid-related deaths in Alberta have increased by 5,000 per cent over the past 10 years, according to study data.

Chris Shea’s son looks at a memorial on International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31, 2023.

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Pouliot is part of a Facebook group for Albertans who have lost loved ones to overdoses. She said the group is gaining a new member every day.

Families in Edmonton gathered Thursday for many reasons: to remember people who died of drug overdoses, to urge lawmakers to do something about the supply of toxic drugs circulating on the streets of cities across the country and combat the a*sociated stigma. with deaths from drug poisoning.

“We are trying to get rid of the stigma attached to someone dying from drug poisoning. It’s very difficult because people have a certain idea or image in their head of what that kind of person looks like,” Pouliot said.

“We really try to make people understand that these people are sons, daughters, parents, brothers, sisters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

“They belong to a family, to a community – they’re somebody’s best friend, somebody’s partner.”

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