Charlene Burmeister isn’t giving up the fight for a safe and regulated drug supply as International Overdose Awareness Day nears.
The founder and executive director of the Coalition of Substance Users of the North (CSUN) has teamed up with a number of community partners for a day of community activities in honour of loved ones and calls for change on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
“I would prefer these things didn’t have to happen, but the reality is we’re into the sixth year of a crisis with very little implementation of what we know needs to be done around a safe, regulated supply of drugs to Canadians in the same way we have with alcohol and cannabis,” Burmeister said.
“We know that prohibition and the war on drugs is clearly a failed effort.”
More than 10,000 people have died since the province’s toxic drug supply was declared a public health emergency in April 2016.
Deaths due to toxic drugs in the first half of 2022 have surpassed the number of deaths experienced in the same period of 2021, putting B.C., once again, on track for a record loss of life, according to chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.
The highest rates of death by local health area this year have been recorded in Cariboo/Chilcotin, Terrace, Mission, Lillooet and Powell River.
“Historically, substance use is seen as a moral failing, and yet we celebrate the use of alcohol and cannabis in our society daily,” Burmeister said.
“Some people feel like people get what they deserve, but I also think that those minds are shifting as we recognize almost everybody in one way or another has been impacted by these preventable deaths.”
While B.C. will become the first jurisdiction in Canada where people 18 years old and older will be allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs for personal use, such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, beginning on Jan. 31, 2023, Burmeister believes it is not enough.
“The impact will only change when there is access to safe, regulated supply both through a prescription and non-prescription model,” she maintains.
International Overdose Awareness Day in Quesnel will start with an opening prayer 12 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Fraser River Walking Bridge entrance on Front Street.
Activities will include smudging, drumming, naloxone training, grief and loss support, open mic and more. Food and refreshments will be available. A memorial flower drop is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. with closing and a moment of silence at 3 p.m.
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