FSJ Community Action Team hosts Overdose Awareness Day

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — With support from Urban Matters, the Fort St. John Community Action Team hosted a day of education, awareness and stigma reduction on Wednesday.

The Overdose Awareness Day event in Fort St. John was held at Festival Plaza and featured informative booths, Naloxone training and a candle-lit vigil.

Julianne Kucheran with Urban Matters says this is the fifth year they’ve been helping organize the event.

“It’s a day to learn about overdose and responding to overdoses and also learning and being aware about addiction and mental health and overdose in general,” she explained.

“It’s really about honouring frontline service providers and working with people with lived and living experiences of addiction and overdose.”

After lunch, guests were invited to light candles and say a few words to honour lost loved ones.

Festival Plaza was set up in an “open house” style, where attendees could go to each booth and learn more about addictions, overdose and prevention.

Kucheran says her work is about supporting community groups and peers with living experiences to “stay safe and stay well.”

“As Mayor Ackerman said, since 2016, the overdose crisis has been named a public health emergency across B.C.,” she said.

“Responding to the overdose crisis is about coming together as a community and really care for each other and wanting to make sure that our community members are as safe and healthy and well as possible.”

She says it is important to work together to create harm reduction and safe supply opportunities.

One booth she wanted to highlight was Northern Health, as they provided laptops to do the online Naloxone training and Naloxone kits.

Like most advocating for addiction awareness, Kucheran wants the stigma to end.

“It’s not really people’s fault why they’re in their current addiction,” she said.

To help aid the battle against the stigma, Kucheran suggests people use the term “peer” for someone with lived or living experience with addiction or substance use instead of “addict” or “junkie.”

Another booth present was Moms Stop the Harm with Heather Boswell.

Blank masks were stacked on Boswell’s table as she gave guests the opportunity to decorate them in honour of loved ones they’ve lost.

“Then I’m gonna take a picture of them wearing the mask, and that’s to symbolize the stigma around overdoses, and then one day we’ll be able to take those masks off and be able to present our face to people,” she explained.

Boswell says she is an advocate against the stigma and is fighting back against the thought that addiction is a choice.

“Nobody wakes up and says, ‘Hey, today I’m gonna die.’ They don’t do that. It’s not a choice. It’s an addiction, which is a mental health issue,” Boswell said.

Boswell wanted to mention Healing Hearts, a support group that is part of Moms Stop the Harm for those who have lost a loved one to an overdose.

Pamela Cox is a peer with Northern Sun Helpers, who are also trying to break the stigma that comes with substance use.

“We’re not addicts anymore. We’re not junkies anymore. We are people, and we have lived and living experiences, and we wish to convey that knowledge that we have to all those that are still alone. They are the ones we are losing more than often,” she said.

A large majority of substance users are middle class, who are being forced to use alone due to the stigma, Cox said.

She says this results in them potentially losing everything due to hiding their substance use.

This year, Cox is hoping for a safe use site to open up in the city, while Northern Health has been looking for an OPS site.

“I don’t want to hear any more of my friends and loved ones dying because there’s nobody there to help them or that they’re dying from the toxicity of the drugs that are being provided,” she said.

At the Northern Sun Helpers booth, Cox had a diary so attendees can put their stories down on paper.

“It isn’t the drugs that are the gateway. It’s the trauma that’s been brought about, whether it’s a car accident or a fall or the loss of a family member,” Cox said.

August 31st, 2022, was officially proclaimed Overdose Awareness Day by the City of Fort St. John this summer.

The Pomeroy Sports Centre and City Hall will be lit purple for this nationally recognized day.

Key Contacts from Healthy FSJ and Fort St. John Community Action team:

  • In case of emergency, call 911
  • Crisis Centre: 1-800-784-2433
  • Crisis Line: 1-888-562-1214
  • Crisis Prevention Youth Line: 1-888-564-8336
  • Fort St. John RCMP: 250-787-8100
  • Alcohol and Drug Information Services: 1-800-663-1441
  • VictimLink BC: 1-800-563-0808
  • Kid’s Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
  • FSJ Mental Health and Addictions: 250-263-6080
  • FSJ Intensive Case Management Team: 250-261-7271
  • FSJ Health Unit: 250-263-6000
  • FSJ Alcoholics Anonymous: 250-785-0500
  • Community Bridge: 250-785-6021
  • FSJ Friendship Centre: 250-785-8566
  • FSJ Women’s Resource Society: 250-787-1121

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