As the number of opioid overdose deaths continue to rise in Abbotsford and around B.C., so does witnessing them.
By June 2 this year, 39 people in this city had died of opioid overdose, marking it as the fourth top city for such deaths.
Kathleen McKay says she has witnessed two overdoses recently, and that she didn’t know what to do other than call for help. She was one of about 30 people marching from Jubilee Park to Trinity Memorial United Church on Tuesday for International Overdose Awareness Day.
Part of the gathering that followed included a meal and a chance to learn how to administer a naloxone shot.
McKay was the first to jump in and try it firsthand, and as she nervously worked with the kit, she talked about how helpless she felt while watching someone overdose. Afterward, she trembled and said it brought back those feelings.
It is a bit tricky to administer the life-saving drug, from being able to load the medicine into the needle from its container, to knowing where to jab it. It takes practice, and all kits come with instructions.
A volunteer from Phoenix Society was on hand for the training. One of the most important things to do is take a few deep breaths before starting, she said.
And remember, she added, the shot needs to go into muscle – the patient’s “arm, butt or thigh.”
The event was hosted by the Drug War Survivors (DWS) and led by their program coordinator, Brittany Maple.
That morning, the B.C. Coroners Service released a statement about the state of the opioid crisis in this province. The first six months of 2021 saw 40 per cent more overdoses than the first six months of 2020.
“It’s an ongoing issue and policy needs to change,” Maple said. None of those deaths have happened in supervised injection sites.
“So we know what the answers are,” she said. “We need to push the government to act and we need to listen to people with lived experiences.”
And often, she said, it’s the drug users themselves that are coming up with solutions.
Harvey Clause has just found housing in the Hearthstone, but has lived a long life of drug use and homelessness. He has been running an episodic overdose prevention tent in Jubilee Park in the off hours when there is no coverage from the community’s partner groups.
“I lost a dozen friends last year,” he said. “Dozens maybe.”
One of them was a friend name Kiah Ashley, who started Project Angel, which connects substance users with supports and services through a peer connection.
Everyone at the march knew Kiah, and there was a lot of nodding when her name was mentioned. Their community is a tight-knit one, and they all gathered in groups to catch up, chat about people they’ve lost to the opioid epidemic, and even speak with a microphone to tell a story.
One woman who told her story to the group said she doesn’t use drugs, but her sister does. She said she missed her.
“I wish she would stop so that I can see her, and she can see me.”
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