Vancouver Island rallies for action on overdose crisis

Protestors marched from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health building in Victoria on Tuesday for the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Kevin Donaghy, executive director of New Leaf Outreach Society, left, lead a rally and march as part of the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis in Nanaimo Tuesday. Anti-overdose advocacy groups held events in more than 20 cities. CHRIS BUSH/Nanaimo News Bulletin
Jan Mahoney holds a photo of her son, Michael, who died of an overdose in December at just 21-years-old. She and husband Glen want to see more action on the overdose crisis. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Drug users, friends, family and supporting community groups in Nanaimo held a rally and march as part of the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis Tuesday. Anti-overdose advocacy groups held events in more than 20 cities. CHRIS BUSH/Nanaimo News Bulletin
Glen and Jan Mahoney pose with an image of their son Michael, who died of an overdose in December after struggling with opioid addiction since age 13. The couple joined protestors Tuesday as they marched from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health building downtown as part of the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Glen Mahoney wants to know how many people have to die from overdoses before something changes.

He and his wife Jan joined dozens of people raising a rally cry in downtown Victoria on Tuesday as they called for action on the overdose crisis.

Glen and Jan’s son, Michael, was prescribed opioids for pain at just 13-years-old. He spent the rest of his short life battling an addiction to the substance until he died of an overdose less than five months ago.

He was 21-years-old.

In their grief, the Victoria couple say something must change.

“Doing the same thing over and over that doesn’t work, it’s the definition of insanity,” said Jan. “I’ve been an advocate for safe supply for many years. It’s just ridiculous how we’ve criminalized people because… humans have been using substances for a millennium, so I don’t think prohibition is the answer.”

Glen said stigma is the only explanation for the ongoing crisis.

“These people are ill. And they go untreated,” he said.

They were among the protesters taking to the streets in Vancouver Island’s two biggest communities Tuesday.

Maffeo Sutton Park was the backdrop for a rally in Nanaimo, as drug users joined family, friends and their peers across Canada for a National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis.

The Nanaimo event featured speeches, a march to city hall where participants placed flowers in a coffin to commemorate lives lost to overdoses, and a community outreach event and barbecue, a collaboration between New Leaf Outreach, a peer-run drug-user organization, and the Nanaimo Community Action Team, comprised of city staff and non-profit organizations that provide services to people who use drugs.

Kevin Donaghy, executive director of New Leaf Outreach Society, delivered a speech which laid out lists of demands from the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

“The last year in British Columbia there were more overdose deaths than any other year prior,” Donaghy said, during his speech. “The overdose crisis continues to get worse and we’re here today to hold the government accountable to address the overdose crisis and to meaningfully engage the people who use drugs in the process of addressing the overdose crisis.”

Similar events took place in more than 20 cities across Canada.

In Victoria, protesters, which included members of the Society of Living Illicit Drug Users (SOLID), Aids Vancouver Island (AVI), Moms Stop the Harm as well as other advocates and harm reduction workers, marched from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health building at 1515 Blanshard Street, calling for safe supply, compassionate policy change and decriminalization of single-use drugs.

“Safe supply can be done,” said Victoria-based harm reduction nurse Marilou Gagnon, in an address to the crowd. “It is cost effective…it saves lives.”

The crowd responded with hoots of support, banging pots and blowing whistles.

“We know what to do, we have the solution,” she added, saying that governments have managed public health emergencies without knowing the cause or the cure.

“We can take matters into our own hands.”

According to the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD), safe supply refers to legal and regulated drugs that perform as a substitute for illicit drugs – helping to re-conceptualize safe use practices and ensure users don’t ingest contaminants like fentanyl.

A safer drug supply motion brought forward by the City of Victoria was approved at an AVICC meeting on Saturday, but Coun. Sarah Potts said the overdose crisis needs to become a federal election issue too.

“I want to call on governments to do more and do better,” she said to the crowd.

Coun. Laurel Collins and Coun. Sharmarke Dubow joined the group as well.

Tuesday’s march was part of a National Day of Action put on by CAPUD that comes with five federal demands: to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency, to make safe supply the fifth pillar of the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, to make heroin an accessible drug, to decriminalize people who use drugs and to provide emergency funding for overdose prevention sites.

RELATED: Victoria advocates demand a safe supply of opioids



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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