(THE NEWS/files)

(THE NEWS/files)

Evening on Maple Ridge wharf for overdose victims

Marked International Overdose Awareness Day

People gathered on the Port Haney wharf Thursday to remember and commemorate those who have died from drug overdoses.

Residents were invited to share songs, food and stories about those who’ve been lost and to call for action to end the epidemic of drug overdoses, said a release from International Overdose Awareness Day.

Globally, the actual date for International Overdose Awareness Day is Aug. 31.

“The people who are dying are our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters – they are loved, and they are missed.” said Kat Wahamaa, Moms Stop The Harm advocate.

Wahamaa is part of the Ridge Meadows Overdose Community Action Team.

Members of the community were encouraged to support those who have been personally affected by overdose, added Tracy Scott, Maple Ridge Street Outreach Society.

Both women have lost a child to overdoses.

Wahamaa said two major changes needed was to decriminalize drug use and to provide a safe, regulated supply of drugs through the health care system.

“We can eliminate the overdoses. We know it’s preventable and we can save millions of dollars,” Wahamaa said.

There are some programs where people can access opioid substitutes but they’re limited in scope.

“We have a public health system through which we can deploy a safe supply.”

She said harm reduction measures, such as safe consumption sites, are effective, adding that according to the B.C. Centre For Disease Control, 4,500 fatalities were prevented because of harm reduction efforts.

Instead of testing street drugs for fentanyl, “Why aren’t we distributing safe, clean, inexpensive drugs to people who have a medical condition … why aren’t we doing that?

“We know that’s what works. That’s what will stop people dying and it’s just not happening. And it’s lack of political will, on the federal level, on the provincial level.”

That would save millions of dollars, she added.

Allowing the current system to continue will just see more people die, she added.

She said that many Canadians are drug users because they drink alcohol but that they want to consume alcohol from a safe supply, such as government regulated liquour stores. “So we regulate that. It’s no different. What are we waiting for?”

Last year, there were 747 events held in 38 countries to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s most recent World Annual Drug Report, 585,000 people around the world died as a result of drug use in 2017.

The Maple Ridge event was organized by the Ridge Meadows Community Action Table.

That group involves a wide range of stakeholders including the City of Maple Ridge, Fraser Health, Moms Stop The Harm, first responders and people with lived experience along with poverty reduction supports as well as mental health and substance use services.

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